Better luck next year: The Ottawa Senators are finally building something
They are not there yet, but they are close
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Ottawa Senators are the 12th team on our list and after a lengthy, and sometimes seemingly hopeless rebuild, they are finally back on track.
During the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Ottawa Senators went on an improbable run that took them all the way to double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. They were one shot away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Nobody saw it coming.
But for as improbable as that run was, that team did have a ton of talent. Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Craig Anderson were just some of the more prominent names on that roster. It was good. Very good.
But instead of building on that success, that roster was rapidly ripped apart through a series of money-dumping trades that left almost nobody on the team within two years. It has been a long road back ever since.
It has taken some time, but the Senators finally seem to have something brewing here.
Even though the 2022-23 season was their sixth-straight non-playoff season, they at least have a promising core in place and have done a great job to not only keep them on long-term deals, but have also made some significant trades to add to it. In doing so, they have proven how easy it can sometimes be to add an impact player without having to give up a ton of assets.
Over the past calendar year they managed to add Alex DeBrincat (a two-time 40-goal scorer still in the prime of his career AND under team control for two years at the time of his acquisition) and Jakob Chychrun (a top-pairing defenseman signed long-term for below market value) for only a handful of draft picks, with only two of them coming in the first-round. They did not give up a single top prospect or young player from their NHL team. It can be done.
DeBrincat and Chychrun were added to a young core that already includes Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Joshua Norris, and Thomas Chabot that are all signed long-term through their peak years in the league. The “old man” of that group is Chabot who is only 26 years old. It is an outstanding core whose best days should, in theory, still be ahead of them.
The heavy lifting in terms of finding the franchise players and keeping them is already done.
Now they just have to fill in around the edges.
What went wrong for the Senators
For all of the strong moves the Senators have made over the past year or two, the one big miss they had was in the handling of their goaltending situation.
Specifically, the offseason trade that saw them send Filip Gustavsson to the Minnesota Wild for Cam Talbot.
I get what they were doing when they made the trade.
Talbot is a veteran, has had some success as a starting goalie, was very good over the previous three years in Calgary and Minnesota, and Gustavsson was still largely unproven. The Senators wanted to take a big step forward, they wanted to compete for a playoff spot and they figured the veteran probably gave them the best chance to do that.
He did not.
The trade turned out to be a disaster.
Talbot struggled with a save percentage under .900, while the Senators used seven — SEVEN! — different goalies over the course of the year. It was a constant problem.
Gustavsson, meanwhile, split time nearly 50/50 with Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota and had an absolutely magnificent regular season. He put a .931 save percentage on the board (one of the best numbers in the entire league) and played like the No. 1 goalie the Senators initially believed he could be.
That was a big swing-and-a-miss and is probably a move the Senators would love to have a do-over on.