This is the newest file in THN.com’s ongoing “Three Burning Questions” series. In this series, we ask three big questions for each NHL team prior to the start of the 2022-23 regular season. In this file, we’re posing Three Burning Questions about the Ottawa Senators.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE SENATORS IN 2022-23:
1. How quickly will the Senators’ big-time off-season acquisitions come together to drastically increase the potency of the team’s offense? Not long. Sens GM Pierre Dorion made arguably the best moves of any of his colleagues this past summer, landing young star forward Alex DeBrincat, veteran star forward Claude Girioux, and veteran goalie Cam Talbot. All three acquisitions should make a sizeable impact in their own distinct ways: DeBrincat brings his soft hands, sharp eye and consistency scoring the puck; Giroux is a playmaker with the ability to also chip in 20 goals or more; and Talbot carries his ferocious competitive nature into a battle for playing time with Anton Forsberg.
Ottawa’s payroll has increased thanks to its slew of veteran additions, but there’s every reason to believe Giroux, DeBrincat and Talbot – who’ll combine for a $16.5-million salary cap hit this year – all will make positive contributions, and it probably won’t take them all that long to acclimate to their new environs. Players are in shape virtually year round in the modern-day NHL, and highly-skilled players don’t need a lot of weeks or months to adjust to new teammates.
2. How is Ottawa’s goaltending going to shake out? As noted, the 35-year-old Talbot is challenging the 29-year-old Forsberg for the starter’s job in Ottawa’s net. Their individual numbers weren’t all that dissimilar last year – Talbot appeared in 49 games with the Minnesota Wild last season, posting a 2.77 Goals-Against-Average and .911 Save Percentage, while Forsberg made 46 appearances, with a 2.82 G.A.A. and .917 SP in Ottawa. Forsberg is signed for three years, and Talbot is under contract only for this coming season. But if Talbot makes the No. 1 job his own, Dorion will be happy to keep Forsberg in a support role.
There are some young goalies in the Sens’ development system, but for now, it comes down to Talbot and Forsberg to provide sufficient netminding for Ottawa’s improved offense and let the new forwards be difference-makers and needle-movers.
3. Despite all the new faces, doesn’t the Senators’ success this season hinge on the performances of their young core? Yes, that’s absolutely true. Ottawa suffered through many a miserable season to be able to draft dynamic talents such as Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Shane Pinto, Jake Sanderson and Brady Tkachuk, and they’ve dealt away plenty of talent to be the recipients of up-and-comers Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Jake Sanderson. All those players will need to be at the peak of their game if the Senators are to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2017.
The Sens are an older team on the back end – with three thirty-something-year-olds in their top three defensive pairings – than they are at forward, where only Giroux (45) and fourth-line winger Austin Watson (30) are older than 29. But the key for Ottawa making the playoffs is for them to have phenomenal assets like Stutzle, Chabot, Tkachuk and Norris continue to grow their games and lift the franchise into the post-season mix in the improved Atlantic Division. The new acquisitions are nice, but many, if not most NHL teams want to have the young core of talent the Senators have. Now they just have to go out and consistently prove it.