The Senators may actually be a competent team this year! I know, it sounds scary. But an exciting offseason has brought hope to Ottawa for the first time since they lost to the Penguins in the 2017 Conference Finals. They still are far away from serious contention thanks to a questionable defensive core, and the investigation into the 2018 Canadian World Juniors team could dismantle their hope. But as training camp opens, the vibes are good for this franchise.
Offseason additions: F Alex DeBrincat, F Claude Giroux, G Cam Talbot, F Tyler Motte, F Jayce Hawryluk, D Jacob Larsson, F Derick Brassard (PTO), F Michael Dal Colle (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: F Connor Brown, G Matt Murray, F Colin White, F Chris Tierney, G Filip Gustavsson, F Tyler Ennis, D Michael Del Zotto, D Victor Mete, F Adam Gaudette.
During the season, the Senators finally named Brady Tkachuk captain, making something official that felt inevitable since the team drafted him in 2018. 2021-22 was Tkachuk’s best yet, as he scored 30 goals with 67 points, living up to the offensive ceiling that we hadn’t yet seen at the NHL level. Of course, Tkachuk also has physicality that even the average fourth liner would be jealous of. He had 117 penalty minutes with 270 hits last year, while finishing tenth in the league in shots. Ottawa found out who their new number one center is last season, as Josh Norris scored 35 goals in 66 games. Norris has an 18.8 percent shooting rate in 125 career games and also scored 16 goals on the power play. While they only got 46 games out of him, six-foot-three winger Drake Batherson scored 17 goals with a career-high 44 points, solidifying his position on the top line. Batherson’s 2.79 xGF/60 led the team at even strength.
Perhaps the Senators overreacted when they gave Tim Stutzle an eight-year extension worth over $8 million a season this offseason. But as a 20-year-old, his total numbers were very good. He scored 22 goals with 58 points in 79 games. He will be moving to center full-time in all likeliness, but with two much better linemates. Alex DeBrincat has been one of the league’s best goal scorers since he debuted with Chicago in 2017-18. Last season, he set a career-high in points with 78, 41 of those points being goals. DeBrincat is an elite sniper that can help the team in all situations, and he is only 24. The other big forward addition this offseason was Claude Giroux, the somewhat hometown kid (Hearst, Ontario is far from every NHL franchise) who finally left the Flyers last year. He scored just three goals in 18 games for the Panthers, but had 20 assists. His total numbers were 21 goals and 44 assists, showing that he is still an effective weapon. He should fit in well with Ottawa, where he is not expected to be the guy.
Alex Formenton was heavily associated with Batherson as both came up in the Senators’ system, but Formenton’s first full season wasn’t as dominant. He did score 18 goals with extraordinary speed. He also led the league with five shorthanded goals. At even strength, his 2.97 xGA/60 was the second-worst on the team. With a low PDO, he had an ugly GF% of 39.3 percent. Last year was supposed to be Shane Pinto’s exciting rookie season after a successful career at the University of North Dakota led to his NHL debut. But he played in just five games, limited by a shoulder injury. The hope is still there for Pinto to take the third line center role. After coming over from Tampa Bay for Nick Paul, Mathieu Joseph completely exceeded expectations. Playing in 11 games, he scored four goals with eight assists. He enjoyed an elevated role after being buried in Tampa Bay. Joseph finished with 1.8 points per 60 minutes when you combine his two stints, which would have been sixth on the team last year.
To improve the fourth line, the Senators recently signed forward Tyler Motte. A part of a deep playoff run in 2019-20 and 2021-22, Motte scored twice in 15 games for the Rangers in the postseason last year. He had 15 points in the regular season and can be a valuable penalty killer. Veteran Austin Watson scored 10 goals last year, the second-most of his career. He also set a career-high in hits, with 213. Ottawa sent a seventh-round pick to the Sharks in October for Dylan Gambrell, who did his job as a fourth line center. While Gambrell only contributed seven points in 63 games, he was on the ice for under two goals against per 60 minutes. Parker Kelly is in the mix for a role after playing in 41 games last season. He scored seven goals while laying 131 hits. The Senators have brought in Derick Brassard on a professional tryout. Brassard has played for ten teams in his career, with the Senators being one of them. He had 77 points in 139 games for them and was on that 2017 team. He played in 46 games for the Flyers and Oilers last year, scoring eight goals with 19 points.
Thomas Chabot continued to be an absolute workhorse for the Senators last season, averaging at least 26 minutes of ice time a night for the third consecutive year. He only played in 59 games and had 38 points. He has found a consistent partner on the top pairing in Artem Zub, a Russian defender who had 22 points in 81 games last season, his second in the NHL. Zub led the team in blocked shots with 124, and his 155 hits was the most by an Ottawa defender.
There are still two more years left in the albatross of a contract that Lou Lamoriello signed Nikita Zaitsev to ages ago. Ottawa stopped pretending that he was an elite defender in 2021-22, as Zaitsev’s ice time was cut significantly. He brings very little offense, and even the defensive numbers aren’t great. He undoubtedly does bring physicality, with triple digit blocked shots and hits in each of his six NHL seasons. The crown jewel of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom, played in a career-high 53 games last year, with no goals and 14 assists. Brannstrom’s small stature is always going to play into his defensive ability, and he had the second-worst xGA/60 on the team’s defensive core.
The debut to get excited for this year is Jake Sanderson’s. Selected fifth overall in the 2020 draft, Sanderson had 26 points in 23 games at North Dakota last year, setting himself up for at least a shot at the NHL level. The team brought in a potential veteran partner in Travis Hamonic at the trade deadline. Hamonic is not the same player that once yielded a first and two second-round picks in a trade, but he can at least be serviceable. He played in 43 games for the Canucks and Senators last year, with 10 points and 81 blocked shots. If both Brannstrom and Sanderson lock up spots, then veteran Nick Holden will be the odd man out of the lineup. He played in 76 games last year after a trade from Vegas, scoring 19 points. Holden, along with Zub and Zaitsev, was one of three Senators with at least one hundred hits and blocked shots last season.
The Ottawa goaltending could go right this year, but it has the risk attached to go horribly wrong. The lead goalie is expected to be Anton Forsberg, who was way better than he had any right to be. Forsberg had a .917 save percentage in 46 games last season while Matt Murray was out. He had 11.5 goals saved above expected, which was the twelfth best in the league. His new goaltending partner, Cam Talbot, was on the opposite side of the GSAx spectrum. Talbot was the fourth-worst in the league in that stat, at -17.3. He had a .911 save percentage for Minnesota, and has a pedigree that Forsberg simply doesn’t.
Brady Tkachuk – Josh Norris – Drake Batherson
Alex DeBrincat – Tim Stutzle – Claude Giroux
Alex Formenton – Shane Pinto – Mathieu Joseph
Tyler Motte – Dylan Gambrell – Austin Watson
Scratched: Parker Kelly, Derick Brassard
Thomas Chabot – Artem Zub
Erik Brannstrom – Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Sanderson – Travis Hamonic
Scratched: Nick Holden