Erik Karlsson. Image by: Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images
Without top-tier goaltending or depth up front, the Senators are going to need to be a stingy, shutdown team that gets offense from their defense come 2019-20.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
he Senators’ deep run into the playoffs this past season, which saw Ottawa fall a single goal short of advancing to the Stanley Cup final, gave some the impression this is a franchise set for deep playoff runs well into the future. Feel free to pump the brakes on that any time, though.
There’s no questioning the areas of strength for the Senators. On the blueline, Ottawa is almost guaranteed to have one of the best defensive corps as long as Erik Karlsson is around. The Senators captain is almost undoubtedly the best rearguard in the league. He’s a two-time Norris Trophy winner who has been the runner-up for the past two seasons and is capable of playing nearly half of every game, being effective in every single minute of that. That’s not to mention his two-way play made believers out of even his biggest naysayers this past campaign, so it’s no wonder the Senators — offensively, defensively and on special teams — almost entirely live and die on the strength of Karlsson.
But Karlsson can only do so much and the one-man team has yet to nor likely ever will exist. Thankfully, Karlsson has some decent help on the back end already in Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci, but the best bet to really aid Karlsson is yet to come along. Thomas Chabot got into one game with the Senators to start the 2016-17 season and played just seven minutes, but the rearguard has all the promise of a future No. 1 defender. He was a standout at the World Junior Championship, named to the tournament’s all-star team and winning the best defenseman and MVP honors, and Chabot is giving Senators every reason to be excited.
It’s offensively, though, where things will get tricky for the Senators. It’s not as though Ottawa is entirely devoid of offensive talent, but it’s hard to pinpoint the one, can’t-miss scoring star among the ranks.
In three years’ time, Mike Hoffman will likely continue to be a consistent 25-goal scorer, Mark Stone will be a 55-point player with great two-way ability and Kyle Turris, should he stick around, should still be producing 20-goal, 50-point seasons. But where does the rest of the attack come from? Bobby Ryan, who’s paid to be that scorer, had an incredibly trying 2016-17 and there’s concern about where his career goes from here and Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zack Smith, while reliable players, haven’t shown themselves to be top offensive threats.
That could mean a lot of stock is being put in a young player to come along and really put the offense over the top. Colin White is rated highly by scouts and could be a top-six talent, and the same goes for Logan Brown and Nick Paul. There’s no guarantees there for the Senators, though. One additional note on the offense is that for natural centers such as White, Brown and Filip Chlapik, playing on the wing might be the only way to crack the lineup on a squad that has its fill of pivots.
Ottawa also faces crease questions. With Craig Anderson’s contract is up after the coming campaign, will the Senators be able to re-sign him with the cap consideration that will need to be given to the likes of Karlsson, Ceci, Stone, Turris, White and others? If Ottawa allows Anderson to walk, the goaltending gig falls solely on Mike Condon’s shoulders. Condon played well this past season, but if he’s going to be a No. 1 netminder, he’ll need to prove he can take his game to another level.
GOT IT: Elite top-pairing defensemen. Some saw Karlsson as a mere offensive threat prior to this past campaign, but his showing under coach Guy Boucher was spectacular and the Senators captain is a lock to remain one of the best defensemen in the league well into his 30s. Karlsson alone would give Ottawa one of the best first pairings in the league. What stands to put the pairing over the top, though, is Chabot. He’s considered by some to be the best defensive prospect in the league coming into the new campaign and by the time he’s entering his third season could be a full-fledged all-star blueliner.
NEED IT: Additional depth in goal would certainly benefit the Senators. Condon had a good showing in Ottawa this past season and was a potential season-saver after injuries and personal matters took a toll on the Senators’ crease. However, he’s yet to establish himself as a true No. 1. Will he alone be able to carry the weight in the crease? If he can’t, Ottawa will need one of several goaltending prospects to develop into a better-than-average No. 2 option.
CAP WATCH: The Senators’ entire salary structure is going to revolve around Karlsson’s next contract. He’s earning $6.5 million right now, but with unrestricted free agency in the offing, Karlsson is going to be due a massive raise. It might not even be so absurd to suggest nearly double what he’s earning right now. At present, the highest paid defender is P.K. Subban, who has a $9-million cap hit, but Karlsson is a perennial Norris Trophy finalist and his offensive ability is almost unmatched among rearguards. Over the past four seasons, Karlsson has 293 points, the ninth-most among all players. The next-best mark among defensemen is Brent Burns, but he’s 34 points back. Would anyone scoff at $10 million-plus per season for Karlsson given his value to the Senators?
Once Karlsson is locked up, though, the Senators have to work on getting good value contracts for their forwards. Stone is going to be due a healthy raise and, if Ottawa wants to keep a top-line center option, they might need to dish out cash to keep Turris in town. Contracts for Ryan and Phaneuf are going to be difficult to maneuver around, so it’s going to take some production and consistency for both to remain viable options for the Senators moving forward.
Luckily, there’s good value to be had with youngsters such as Chabot, Brown and Chlapik, and Pageau’s $3.1-million deal will still have one season remaining.
BOTTOM LINE: Without top-tier goaltending or depth up front, the Senators are going to need to be a stingy, shutdown team that relies on offense from the blueline to compete with the league’s best. That could mean Ottawa is headed for some years of fighting tooth and nail to sneak into the playoffs.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders | New York Rangers
Up next: Philadelphia Flyers