Over the next six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Ottawa Senators…
The Ottawa Senators strung together a pretty nice run of successful seasons in the early 2000’s — even making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2007.
It’s been downhill since then though.
The Sens have won just one best-of-seven series in the last nine years, and missed the playoffs entirely last season. They may not face the same local pressure that their counterparts in Toronto or Montreal have to endure, but the fans are starting to get restless.
With that in mind, Ottawa dealt for Dion Phaneuf last February, then swapped Mika Zibanejad to get Derick Brassard from New York. They also switched coaches, hiring former Tampa Bay bench boss Guy Boucher in May.
Will it be enough? Time will tell. But, with Erik Karlsson posting 70-80 points per season, a solid collection of young talent locked in up front and the Atlantic Division showing signs of mediocrity after the Lightning, this might be the Senators’ best chance for awhile.
What does Dion Phaneuf bring to this blue line?
Is Phaneuf overpaid at $7 million per yer? Maybe. If nothing else, he certainly heard that he was during his tenure with the Maple Leafs. But that’s in the past now. The contract was signed awhile ago, and now he’s looking for a fresh start in Ottawa.
In 20 games with the Sens last season, Phaneuf managed one goal and seven assists. More importantly though, he can potentially bring some leadership to a relatively young locker room, not to mention a veteran presence along the blue line.
In Ottawa, Phaneuf doesn’t have to be the man, because they already have Karlsson. And he’s not going to have to endure nearly as much scrutiny here as he did for a struggling Toronto club. That doesn’t mean there won’t be pressure, but he may very well be in a much better position to succeed this time around.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Other than the Brassard trade, the Sens didn’t really shake things up very much this summer. For some teams, that’s fine. But Ottawa is going to have to switch something up to make a move in the standings. Maybe changing coaches is the answer.
Boucher did some good things in his short time with Tampa, particularly in his first year as the head coach there. He likely learned some lessons from his time with the Lightning, and should join his new club as a more polished coach — ideally one who can get the most from some of the younger players on this roster.
The Senators are banking on it.
Thomas Chabot (drafted: No. 18 overall in 2015)
With Cody Ceci still unsigned, it’s possible some playing time could open up on the back end in Ottawa. And, even assuming the 22-year-old RFA does get locked in again soon, there could still be room for a talented young defender like Chabot.
Given the fact that he’s still only 19, the Senators have no interest in rushing Chabot along. But he showed considerable improvement after being drafted, and his speed and ability to impact the game on both ends of the ice could help him push for ice time sooner, rather than later. Especially considering the relatively unsettled defense corps he’s trying to break into.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million)
Ryan has never reached the heights in Ottawa that he did with Anaheim. Then again, he often found himself skating alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf when he was with the Ducks, and that tends to help a guy’s production.
The 29-year-old winger did chip in 22 goals and 56 points this past season, so it’s not like he was a disappointment. But if you’re looking up and down this roster trying to find players who might be able to deliver a little more offense, Ryan is certainly on the list.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
At 28 years of age, Smith probably doesn’t have a lot of untapped potential left to reach. That said, his 25 goals last season ranked second only to Mike Hoffman. And they surpassed his career high by 11.
To put it in better perspective, Smith had 39 total goals in the first 319 games of his NHL career. And then he scored 25 in 81 games.
To that end, there’s a good chance his 2015-16 campaign was a bit of an outlier. But it’s not like the Sens are overflowing with high-end pending free agents. If Smith can produce anywhere near the level he was producing at during this past season, he could command a more lucrative contract next summer — or potentially fetch a decent return in a deadline day trade.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun joined the Natural Hat Trick Podcast on Wednesday, and said the decision to ship Zibanejad off to the Rangers in exchange for Brassard was done with the intention of winning now.
At 23, Zibanejad has shown flashes of his true potential, but isn’t as consistent at this point in his development as the 28-year-old Brassard is. And if the Senators really are serious about making their way back into the playoffs in the near future, they will absolutely need some steady production at the center position.