After a very successful 2016-2017 campaign that saw the Senators end up one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals (Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to Pittsburgh) the Senators threw up a dud in 2017-2018 finishing 7th place in the Atlantic with 67 points and earning the 4th pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Ottawa did a lot of moving around of personnel in 2017-2018 with acquiring Matt Duchene from the Avalanche in exchange for Andrew Hammond, Shane Bowers and a 2019 1st & 3rd round pick. They also off-loaded Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to the Kings for Nick Shore and Marian Gaborik. Other transactions of note were trading away Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn and a 2018 3rd round pick to Pittsburgh for Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson and a 2018 1st round pick and 2019 3rd round pick. The Senators would eventually trade Ian Cole away to the Blue Jackets.
2017-2018 was ugly for the Senators, to say the least, both on and off the ice. On the ice, the Senators would finish 25th in Goals Per Game, 30th in Goals Against. Ottawa’s special teams weren’t much better finishing 27th in Powerplay percentage and 26th in Penalty Kill per cent, all of that adding up to a terrible season on the ice.
Off the ice, it wasn’t much better for the Senators. Spencer Callaghan, a die-hard Senators fan, started the #MelnykOut campaign on GoFundMe which lead to hundreds of Senators fans supporting the purchase of a billboard asking for Eugene Melnyk to sell the franchise.
It’s safe to say that all is not going well in Ottawa and change needs to happen, but it’s the NHL, and only so much change can happen when you take in account contracts, the CBA and salary caps.
Three things that need to change
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion’s end of the season address to the media stated that the entire coaching staff is under a full evaluation and they aren’t going to make any decisions until later in the off-season.
Head coach Guy Boucher needs to go.
For the same reason, I think Todd McLellan needs to go in Edmonton; you simply cannot have what happened this year to the Senators after the success they had last year. It just goes to show how out of touch the coach is with his team and how he’s lost control of the room.
Guy Boucher has one more year left on his contract, and maybe Ottawa honours the contract and keeps him for that year, it looks more likely as we edge closer and closer to the draft. It’s safe to say that Boucher will have to turn this ship around entirely if he wants to remain coach of the Senators moving past 2018-2019.
This one slightly ties in with the first point as the Ottawa Senators assistant coaches didn’t get the job done this year with the Sens finishing in 27th place with an abysmal 16.6% Powerplay and 26th place with a 76.2% Penalty Kill. That’s not good enough, surprisingly last year it wasn’t much better for the Senators as they finished 24th and 22nd respectively but somehow made it within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals.
A powerplay quarterbacked by Erik Karlsson shouldn’t be struggling as much as they have been, especially when they have quality shooters in Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan and a good playmaker in Matt Duchene, it just doesn’t make sense that they can’t figure out a way to be one of the better units in the league. Ottawa must find an assistant coach that can utilize the stars that the Senators have and get their powerplay clicking.
It’s shocking that they made it so deep into the playoffs last year with such terrible special teams and their team this year certainly wasn’t good enough to overcome those faults this year.
Needs more scoring
Ottawa finished near the basement when it came to scoring in the NHL. Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson tied for the team lead with 62 points, while Mike Hoffman finished with 56. The Senators would finish the season 25th in goals per game.
To put how poor that is in perspective the Pittsburgh Penguins had three players with more than 89 points, the Penguins were the team that eventually knocked off the Senators in the Eastern Conference Final last year.
Heading into the offseason with around $15.5M in cap space doesn’t seem too terrible from the surface but with pending RFA’s Mark Stone and Cody Ceci needing to be signed that cap space will go away quickly. Magnus Paajarvi is another forward that had a decent end of the season with the Senators and will more than likely be resigned.
It leaves some cap room for the Senators to go out and sign a much-needed goal scorer that can hopefully help the Senators going forward and maybe bolster their terrible powerplay.
Three things not to change
Erik Karlsson isn’t going to be cheap, it’s been a long time since a defenseman this good has had the chance to hit the open market, and a lot of teams will be sending blank cheques to Karlsson hoping they’ll sign with them if he hits free agency in 2018-2018.
The reality for the Senators is that it doesn’t matter the amount that Karlsson wants, they are a better team with him than they are without him. He practically carried them in 2017-2018 within one game from the Stanley Cup, and he wasn’t even healthy.
The number one priority going into the 2017-2018 offseason is to get their captain signed to a long-term deal and provided fans with the peace of mind that they won’t want to lose their star player for nothing at the end of the year. It’ll also give the locker room peace of mind knowing that an impending trade of their captain won’t be happening anytime soon.
Developing young defensemen.
The Senators may very well go into next season with three defensemen who are under their entry-level contract, or just having it expire.
Thomas Chabot who is currently 21 years old will more than likely crack the opening night roster as he played 63 games this year for the big club.
Christian Wolanin just wrapped up a three-year career at the University of North Dakota and will compete for a starting job in training camp but will more than likely start the season with Belleville as it’ll be his first full season as a professional.
Ben Harpur finished his third year as a professional, and his ELC is expiring. Harpur played 41 games with the big club this year and will hope to crack the opening night roster out of training camp, at the very worst he will be their first call-up coming out of the AHL.
The Ottawa Senators have a good crop of young defensemen that will lead the team going forward for sure; they may have to wait a couple more years for all of them to be full-time NHL players.
It’s safe to assume that this seasons 3.32GAA and 0.898SV% are the outliers of Craig Anderson’s career as his career averages are 2.76GAA and 0.914SV%. Those stats lead me to believe that Anderson simply had a bad year and if he can recover from this year and get towards his career average, the Senators should be in a safe spot.
Anderson in 2016-2017 had the best full year of his career despite going through serious family matters; he posted a stellar 2.28GAA and 0.926SV% which lead him to be one of the main reasons the Senators went so far. The Senators don’t need Anderson to be that good every season for them to be successful, but he does need to be better. Especially since the Senators don’t have a reliable second option when it comes to starting goaltender. So even if the Senators wanted to change their goaltending, they more than likely can’t.
The Ottawa Senators had a rough 2017-2018 campaign between players in the locker room going through losses of children and other family struggles and the complete lack of trust by the fans in management it led to a lot of distractions. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Senators bounce back in 2018-2019 and put up a half decent season, I don’t think they’ll go to the Eastern Conference Final again, but I also don’t think they’ll be in the basement.
All in all, the Senators have a lot of young talent, which is good for a team that has said they want to get younger and faster. It’ll be on the current coaching staff or perhaps a new coaching staff to develop the young talent they already have and build a contender for the future.
At the end of the day Senator fans. The only way this team can go is up.