Dion Phaneuf (left) and Tom Pyatt
The franchise is skidding right now, but we've seen the Sens surprise before. We break down the positives and negatives surrounding the team
Things are not going well for the Ottawa Senators right now. As an outsider, I’m not going to dump on the team for getting killed by the buzzsaw Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night, though Senators right winger Mark Stone did tell reporters he was embarrassed by the 5-0 stomping.
The fact is, Ottawa has been struggling mightily of late, with just two regulation wins in the past 10 games. Since they play in what is essentially a two-team Atlantic Division, the post-season is still a possibility for the Senators, but the franchise is sliding and a turnaround is needed quick. The Montreal Canadiens have found their footing and could very well be the final of three playoff teams (along with Tampa Bay and Toronto) from the division if the Senators don’t snap out of their funk.
I believe the more important questions are long-term, however. It’s not whether the Senators can make the playoffs this year, it’s whether the Senators can position themselves for sustained success and perhaps another deep run in the coming years. Here are some factors to consider:
Good Craig Anderson vs. Bad Craig Anderson
I’m sure this bedevils Ottawa fans and the netminder himself, but one of my favorite pieces of statistical whimsy is how goalie Craig Anderson alternates between really good years and really mediocre years. Last season? He was great. This season? Not so much. Here are Anderson’s stats, dating back to when he joined the Sens from Colorado:
2017-18: 3.06 goals-against average, .895 save percentage
2016-17: 2.28 GAA, ,926 SP
2015-16: 2.78 GAA, .916 SP
2014-15: 2.49 GAA, .923 SP
2013-14: 3.00 GAA, .911 SP
2012-13: 1.69 GAA, .941 SP
2011-12: 2.84 GAA, .914 SP
2010-2011: 2.05 GAA, .9.39 SP
That’s so weird to me! How does it happen every time? Nonetheless, if we want to pick up this thread, next season will once again be a Good Craig Anderson Year and the Senators can pencil themselves in for another five wins just on the strength of that.
The two biggest prizes in the Ottawa pipeline are defenseman Thomas Chabot and center Logan Brown. Chabot is up with the Senators now and with six points in seven games, he’s looking pretty good. Chabot has played about equally with Dion Phaneuf and Erik Karlsson and, perhaps unsurprisingly, had much better possession numbers with Karlsson. If this does become a non-playoff year for the Sens, Chabot can be given ample ice time down the stretch in preparation for next season, where I would see the puckmover as a legit top-four guy on the back end.
Brown, who was sent back to junior after making his NHL debut with Ottawa this year, holds a lot of intrigue himself. He’s 6-foot-6, 220 pounds already and getting stronger every year. He’ll play a big role for Team USA at the world juniors and already has championship experience thanks to his Memorial Cup victory in Windsor last year.
Maybe Brown needs some AHL time next year, maybe he slots in seamlessly in Ottawa. But it won’t take too long for him to realize his pro potential and that will be big for the Senators.
One silver lining to Ottawa’s slide down the standings? The first-rounder surrendered to Colorado in the Matt Duchene trade is conditional on Ottawa’s finish. If the pick falls in the top-10 this year, Colorado gets Ottawa’s first-rounder in 2019 instead. Having already traded away prospects Shane Bowers and Jonathan Dahlen, the Sens could really use that pick this year.
The Senators have a lot of…well, tough contracts on the books right now. Bobby Ryan will be making north of $7 million until 2021-22. Dion Phaneuf will be making $7 million flat until 2020-21. And a host of other veterans have no-trade clauses with various levels of modifications to them. Which is a grand way to say that GM Pierre Dorion can’t expect to trade his way out of his problems without a high degree of difficulty. It’s not impossible – after all, Phaneuf signed his contract in Toronto and the Maple Leafs managed to get him off the books – but Ottawa won’t have the upper hand in any potential deals, either. There could be some dumping. It’s not a bad thing.
The contracts Ottawa must be most concerned about involve Karlsson and, frankly, Duchene.
Karlsson caught earlobes when he echoed Drew Doughty’s sentiments about free agency recently, while Duchene is only signed until the end of next season. The Sens gave up a lot for Duchene and they’ll need to prove to him that Ottawa is the place to be for his next contract. If they can’t do that once it’s time for his extension, I’d have to think another trade would be in order – you can’t let him walk for nothing.
So in summation, Ottawa has some challenges in the near future. But we’ve seen the Senators surprise before and there are some very positive aspects to latch onto as well.