Sunday, January 3, 2021

Ottawa Senators 2020-21 Season Preview

 

From Getty Images

       The last few years have been tough for Senators fans. Since the team went to the Conference Finals and nearly beat in Pittsburgh in 2016-17, it's been all downhill since then, with the Matt Duchene trade being the low point. Ottawa is now seeing a glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel, with many intriguing rookies ready to join the club in 2020-21. 

Additions: F Evgenii Dadonov, F Derek Stepan, G Matt Murray, D Erik Gudbranson, F Cedric Paquette, F Austin Watson, D Braydon Coburn, F Alex Galchenyuk, D Josh Brown. 

Subtractions: F Anthony Duclair, D Mark Borowiecki, D Ron Hainsey, F Bobby Ryan, G Craig Anderson, G Anders Nilsson, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Scott Sabourin.

Best Move: Signing Evgenii Dadonov to a three year deal.

Worst Move: Trading a second round pick to Arizona for Derek Stepan.

One Move I'd Make: Acquire a first round pick from the Islanders by taking on Andrew Ladd's contract.

Best Contract: Connor Brown, three years remaining with a $3.6 million cap hit.

Worst Contract: Nikita Zaitsev, four years remaining with a $4.5 million cap hit.

New Division Rivals: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg.

Pending UFAs: Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Erik Gudbranson, Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, Alex Galchenyuk, Mike Reilly.

Pending RFAs: Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, Christian Wolanin, Drake Batherson, Marcus Hogberg, Artem Zub.


Forwards

Brady Tkachuk's second season went just about as well as the first. He scored 21 goals with 44 points, both only one less than his 2018-19 total, in the same 71 game season as before. Tkachuk also plays a very physical game, with 303 hits and 106 penalty minutes. After a nice 2018-19 season, Colin White took a huge step backwards last year, with seven goals and 23 points in 61 games. While it would make sense for the Senators to keep him with Tkachuk, a demotion could also make sense. If he stays with Tkachuk, his right winger will be Evgenii Dadonov. Signing him was a nice move by the team to at least stay competitive for a little bit. He scored 25 goals with 47 points in 69 games for the rival Panthers last year, and he scored 28 goals in each of the past two years. Most of the excitement for the Senators this year will be guided towards 2020 third overall pick Tim Stuetzle. For Mannheim in the DEL last year, Stuetzle had 34 points in 41 games. For Germany in the World Juniors, Stuetzle averaged a goal and an assist per game.  Both of his expected linemates play on the power play and the penalty kill. Chris Tierney scored 11 goals with 37 points in 71 games, and he had at least 40 points in each of the previous two years. In his first year with the Senators, Connor Brown scored 16 goals, his most since 2016-17, with a career high 43 points. He averaged over 20 minutes on ice per night, and he hasn't missed a game since he became a starting Maple Leaf in 2016-17. Acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade along with Tierney, Josh Norris played in three NHL games last year after lighting up the AHL. In 56 games for the Belleville Senators, Norris scored 31 goals with 61 points. He is very good friends with Tkachuk, so don't be surprised if they play together at some point this year. Drake Batherson had 10 points in 23 NHL games last year, and in the AHL, he scored 16 goals with 54 points in 44 games. The Senators have a great opportunity to run out a line of Norris, Batherson and Alex Formenton, who are all 2017 draft picks who dominated in the AHL together last year. The only one of the trio not to appear in an NHL game last year, Formenton scored 27 goals with 53 points in 61 AHL games. The nine forwards that I already mentioned would be the ideal top-six for the Senators, with everyone being either young and exciting, or proven NHL players, with only Dadonov falling on the wrong side of 30. Unfortunately, a bunch of veterans, mostly acquired as a cap dump by other teams, are threatening this piece. Derek Stepan, who the Sens recently acquired and I mentioned in the Coyotes preview, is probably the best of the bunch. He's a playmaker, but has fallen off since joining Arizona. Alex Galchenyuk consistently hit the 40 point mark from 2014-15 to 2018-19, but he completely fell off with Pittsburgh last year, with 17 points in 45 games. After a trade to Minnesota, things picked up for him, as he had seven points in 14 games. Cedric Paquette just won the cup with the Lightning, but he consistently had a CF% well below team average and didn't contribute offensively in his time there. Artem Anisimov scored 15 goals in 49 games for the Senators last year, hitting the 15 goal mark for the fifth year in a row. It sounds weird to say this, but he'd have a much better chance to play elsewhere. Physical forward Austin Watson doesn't bring much to the table offensively. He had 14 points in 53 games for Nashville last year, with 131 hits. The last member of this very crowded group is Nick Paul, who had 20 points in 56 games with 122 hits last year. Paul is a big winger who is only 25 years old, so the Senators could get some interest if they shop Paul. One more possibility for the roster is Logan Brown, a 2016 1st rounder who had eight points in 23 games last year, but he was a point per game player in limited AHL action.

Defensemen

There is some sort of structure to the defensive core for Ottawa, which you can't say the same for the offense. Still, the room could get crowded with some young defensemen looking to make an impact. The star is Thomas Chabot, who could really use a productive partner. Chabot averaged 26 minutes on ice per game, and had 39 points in 71 games last year. The Senators locked him up in September 2019, signing him to an eight year deal that kicks in this year. The best partner for Chabot may be Erik Gudbranson, which is also somehow the worst case scenario. Gudbranson is a big, strong defenseman who is also a big, strong defenseman. If you thought that was a slip up, it's not, because Gudbranson is just a big strong defenseman and nothing else. He had nine points in 51 games for the Penguins and Ducks last year, with 95 penalty minutes. The Sens got Connor Brown by taking on Nikita Zaitsev's contract, and that didn't go well. Zaitsev had 12 points in 58 games, and somehow had an average ice time of 22 minutes despite his GAR being -5.4. I'd say that it's good that Gudbranson will play with Chabot instead of Zaitsev, but is it really? Gudbranson had a GAR of 0 last year, and that was higher than average. Christian Wolanin missed most of 2019-20 with a torn labrum, hurting a year that was vital to his development. Wolanin had 15 points in 43 career NHL games, and had 31 points in 40 AHL games in 2018-19. The usage of Erik Brannstrom will show us how true the Sens are to the rebuild. The 21 year old had four points in 31 NHL games last year, but had 23 points in 27 games in the AHL. Playing in Switzerland this season, Brannstrom had eight points in 10 games. The main competition for him is Braydon Coburn, recently acquired from Tampa Bay. Coburn had four points in 40 games last year, but was phased out of their lineup come playoff time. The Senators traded a 4th rounder to Florida for Josh Brown, who played in a career high 56 games last year. He had eight points with 77 hits and 53 blocked shots. After coming over in a midseason deal with Montreal, Mike Reilly played well, with 12 points in 30 games. His average time on ice was seconds under 20 minutes. 25 year old Russian Artem Zub comes from the KHL, where he scored 13 goals in 57 games last year. He is in the mix for Brown's spot. Christian Jaros and Max Lajoie, who have both been unimpressive in short NHL stints, are also in the mix.

Goalies

The Senators tried to answer their goalie problems when they traded a second round pick for Matt Murray. The trade itself was fine, although the four year, $25 million extension they gave is questionable. Murray really struggled last year, with an .899 SV% and a 2.87 GAA in 38 games for the Penguins last year. His -11.60 GSAA and the fact that Tristan Jarry started to steal his job shows you how bad Murray's 2019-20 was. He shouldn't have much competition in Ottawa, as Marcus Hogberg hasn't done much when given the chance. In 24 games last year, Hogberg had a .904 SV% with a -4.17 GSAA. 


Projected Lines

Brady Tkachuk - Josh Norris - Evgenii Dadonov

Tim Stuetzle - Chris Tierney - Connor Brown

Alex Formenton - Colin White - Drake Batherson

Alex Galchenyuk - Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan

Extras: Nick Paul, Austin Watson, Cedric Paquette, Logan Brown


Thomas Chabot - Erik Gudbranson

Erik Brannstrom - Nikita Zaitsev

Christian Wolanin - Artem Zub

Extras: Braydon Coburn, Mike Reilly, Josh Brown, Christian Jaros, Max Lajoie


Matt Murray

Marcus Hogberg


Projection

The Senators are the one truly bad team in the North Division. But, when you think about it, they could make the playoffs and wouldn't be totally surprised. All they would have to do is finish ahead of three of the teams in their division, and when you look at that list, it's nothing spectacular. While I don't they'll make it, there is a chance, if the kids are for real.

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