Over the past two seasons, we’ve witnessed the Senators experience some very high, highs and some pretty low, lows.
The Senators ended last season on a historic run, being the first team in NHL history to be 14 points out of a playoff spot at the beginning of February to end up making the post-season.
This year, after a decent start, the Sens fell pretty flat and finished 19th in the league, resulting in changes in the front office and behind the bench.
The problem is, this year’s mediocre finish isn’t something new for Ottawa. The Senators have only made it past the first round of the playoffs once in the past six seasons, and when they miss the playoffs it’s only by a few points, which means they aren’t drafting very high.
Take a look at the 2013-14 season, for example, the Sens finished 21st overall, but finished the year on an 8-2-0 run, and once again, drafted in a worse position.
At a certain point in time, Senators management will have to commit to being a legitimate contender, or to a full-scale rebuild, and considering they have arguably the best D-man in the game, Erik Karlsson, one would assume they’d be looking to improve their roster.
When it comes to roster improvement, often times it’s the moves you don’t make that are most impactful in the long term. In the Senators’ case, this couldn’t be any truer.
Consider if the Senators held onto their 2010 first-round pick, instead of trading it for David Rundblad. Not only is Rundblad no longer in the NHL, but the Blues used that pick to select sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, 16th overall. Although the Sens did flip Rundblad for Kyle Turris a year later, a team headlined by Karlsson and Tarasenko is a scary thought.
The other move that Senators management would probably like to take back is the Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher trade. At the time, the Senators faced a logjam in the crease, and decided to trade Bishop and hold on to Robin Lehner with hopes of him being the goalie of the future. Lehner was dealt to Buffalo at last year’s draft for the 21st overall pick. Lehner put up very respectable numbers in an injury-shortened season, while Bishop may be a Vezina finalist this year.
Revisionist history aside, just looking at Ottawa’s draft selections since 2008 where it got Karlsson with the 15th pick, we can see an interesting trend. Ottawa hasn’t been striking out on its first-round picks, but it also hasn’t been hitting home runs.
After the 2008 draft, the Senators have not been able to land one high-impact player in the first round, in six tries. Mika Zibanejad, Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar are solid pieces, but they’re not going to be putting them over the top anytime soon.
One saving grace is that the Senators have been able to hit on some later picks. Mark Stone, picked 178th in 2010, and Mike Hoffman, who was picked 130th in 2009, are both very good players and have shown for stretches that they can be elite.
Another positive is that their two first-round selections from the 2015 draft are both enjoying solid post-draft years.
Thomas Chabot, a big D-man playing for Saint Johns in the QMJHL, is putting up point-per-game numbers, while Colin White has posted exceptional numbers in his first year at Boston College, but both players still have a lot of time and development to go before they are high-impact players in the NHL.
A brief look at the Sens current roster will quickly show that it needs some tuning.
Upfront, there is an abundance of complimentary players. The likes of Hoffman, Turris, Stone, Clarke MacArthur and Zibanejad, but can the Sens rely on these guys to carry an offense? With Hoffman being an RFA and likely seeking a large raise, would the Sens be wise to trade his rights and look elsewhere? Maybe Kyle Okposo or David Backes?
The Senators back end is also extremely mediocre, which is impressive, considering they have a point per game defenseman. Behind Karlsson, there’s Dion Phaneuf, who they acquired just before the trade deadline. The move was strange considering Ottawa’s internal budget, but nonetheless, Phaneuf rounds out the Sens top four with Ceci and Marc Methot. With the three veterans signed long-term, and Ceci being an RFA, it is very unlikely that the Sens back-end will see much of a change for the foreseeable future.
In goal, Ottawa has veteran Craig Anderson, who remains a solid option, and Andrew Hammond, who put up very respectable numbers this year as a backup. Both players a signed for a couple more years, meaning no drastic changes will come in goal.
So where do the Senators go from here?
They seem to be stuck in a middle ground of sorts, where if they make they playoffs, they are not deep enough to make a run, and if they miss they playoffs they are too good to pick in the top five.
Bryan Murray stepped down from his GM position last week after nine seasons on the job. Pierre Dorion will be taking Murray’s spot as the Sens’ new GM and it’ll be up to him to decide what he feels this Ottawa team is really made of. Dorion will be looked to bring in a coach with a long-term plan and to end Ottawa’s streak of middle of the road finishes, a lot to ask of a GM’s first summer on the job.