As things stand, the NHL is planning to have games resume at some point over the coming weeks. Assuming the regular season continues, there will be plenty of things to watch for over the stretch run. Over the coming weeks, PHR will examine the top stretch run storylines for each team. We continue our look at the Atlantic Division with Ottawa.
Many experts had the Ottawa Senators finishing dead last for another season with a team that is in a full rebuild and so far very few stars to speak of. The team also fired its head coach Guy Boucher and replaced him with young coach D.J. Smith and was continuing with plenty of questions surrounding the team and the issues that always seem to arise with the franchise. However, the Senators didn’t look like the worst team in the league — granted they were the second worst, but at the same time, the Senators looked like a team that was improving and the long-term outlook of the team suddenly doesn’t look as bleak.
Just a year ago at this time, the draft was a sore spot as the Senators had traded away their first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene. They had the best odds of giving the Avalanche the first pick in the draft. Instead, the odds went with them at the draft lottery as Colorado emerged with the No. 4 pick — still a good pick, but not as bad as a media relations disaster as it could have been had Colorado emerged with either of the top two players in the draft in Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.
Suddenly one year later, the tables have turned. The Senators now have two lottery picks themselves. They have their own first-rounder (second-best chance to win the first-overall pick) and the San Jose Sharks’ first-rounder as part of the Erik Karlsson trade. With a dismal season, the Sharks are handing Ottawa the third-best chance to net the first-overall pick. Between those two lottery picks, the Senators have a 25 percent chance to walk away with top pick Alexis Lafreniere. Even if they don’t net the top pick, the draft is loaded at the top of the draft with up to 10 franchise-changing players, meaning that no matter where Ottawa lands, they are adding two stud prospects at the draft this year.
With the contract of long-time starter Craig Anderson ending this offseason, the team finds itself in an interesting situation regarding their goaltending situation. The 38-year-old Anderson is a long-shot to return after a season in which the veteran allowed a 3.25 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 34 appearances. The team does have Anders Nilsson and Marcus Hogberg as potential replacements, but neither dominated last season. Nilsson, who dealt with injuries for a large chunk of the season, appeared in 24 games with a 3.18 GAA and a .908 save percentage, while Hogberg fared well in 20 appearances with a 3.12 GAA and a .904 save percentage. While neither showed any dominance, the team has to decide what they intend to do. Do they look at either netminder as a future starter?
The team may have to consider signing a goaltender to fill that starting role, whether that is a long-term fixture in net or a temporary replacement. There are a number of interesting goaltenders who will be available this offseason, including Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner or Jacob Markstrom. The question is whether Ottawa is willing to spend some money in order to add that piece. Of course, the other question is whether to free-agent goalies would want to go to Ottawa anyway with all the turmoil that has surrounded the franchise in previous years.
Rebuild Moving Into Next Phase?
The rebuild has been underway for a couple of years now and the team has gotten some quality play from some of that youth that the team has added with the draft picks its used with its many draft picks and trade acquisitions over the past few years. The team has been extremely cautious with many of those young players as they have put an effort in keeping many of them together this past year with the Belleville Senators. The AHL franchise was the top team in the North Division and looked to be heading for an interesting playoffs before the season was suspended. However, many of those talents are close to being ready to join the NHL club next season.
Players like Joshua Norris, Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom and Rudolfs Balcers look ready for full-time roles next year with several others not far behind, including Alex Formenton, Logan Brown, Vitaly Abramov, Filip Chlapik and Christian Wolanin. Developing that youth will be critical for an impressive full rebuild.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.