Armed with a contract extension, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is looking to make this next stage of his time with the team much different than the most recent stretch. According to Dorion, the rebuild is over. In an appearance on TSN 1200 in Ottawa today, he stated the following:
We’ve had a plan since we started this rebuild. I feel that we’re in the next stage now, it’s time to start to win… Last year, we felt we were a team that was hard to play against, but now it’s time to challenge to get two points every night, be in every game. Games that maybe you got a point last year, you need two this year… A lot of our younger players have reached a maturity stage in their career where they should be leading us and not be considered young players anymore. As a group, It’s time to start winning.
The Senators did take a small step forward last season, finishing with a 23-28-5 record that was neither the last in their division nor a bottom-five mark in the NHL for the first time since 2016-17. The season ended on a strong note with a 16-13-4 run to end the year. However, there is more work to be done for the Senators to regain relevance. The team is still young and inexperienced and lacking in depth in many areas. In order to compete in the deadly Atlantic Division, at least this season, Ottawa likely needs more than what their current roster can offer even at their very best. Fortunately, the Senators also have a copious amount of cap space – still under the cap floor for now – and Dorion mentioned having “several irons in the fire”. Perhaps the Senators will add an impact player or two before the season begins if they are really committed to taking a step forward this season.
- Another team that could be looking to surprise this season will be the new-look Columbus Blue Jackets. The x-factor could be goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who has his sights set on more than just winning the starting job over Joonas Korpisalo. Merzlikins tells The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that the tragic death of close friend, teammate, and countryman Matiss Kivlenieks has instilled in him a drive to become one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. “I’m gonna win a f—— Vezina for him,” Merzlikins proclaimed. “This is my goal. I believe I’m going to reach it. I’m not going to have any limits. I’m just gonna go all-in.” The 27-year-old goaltender has certainly shown signs of elite ability through his first two NHL seasons, recording a .920 save percentage and 2.54 GAA in 61 games. While he may seem far from competing for a Vezina Trophy, especially sharing starts with Korpisalo and playing for a team that is not expected to be a playoff contender, never underestimate the inspiration that a life-changing event can create. Merzlikins credits Kivlenieks with saving his family and that should be more than enough motivation for him to honor his friend to the best of his abilities.
- With considerable cap space and a desire to add top talent, both Ottawa and Columbus could be good landing spots for Vladimir Tarasenko, who requested a trade out of St. Louis earlier this off-season. However, Blues head coach Craig Berube does not expect the star sniper to be going anywhere. In an appearance on the “Cam and Strick” podcast, Berube stated that he believes that Tarasenko will remain in St. Louis this season. Berube says that he has no hard feelings toward Tarasenko, who has maintained that he would like to be traded, and will treat him like any other player in helping him to succeed with the Blues in the event that he stays with the team as Berube expects. Berube states that the team is focusing on what they can control (Tarasenko) and not on what they can’t (the market) which could mean that he really will not be traded despite all indications.