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Expert Analysis

At The Pause: Ottawa Senators

by Ryan Dadoun
Updated On: April 10, 2020, 11:16 am ET

The NHL paused the 2019-20 season on March 12 because of coronavirus concerns.  The COVID-19 pandemic has created plenty of uncertainty.  It’s unclear when or if the NHL season will resume.  Going through with the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs remains a priority for the league, but this situation is very fluid.

In the meantime, we will be writing profiles on every team as well as some players of note from each squad based on where they stood prior to the hiatus. This series started with a write up on the Detroit Red Wings, which you can read here. This week we’re continuing the series by discussing the Ottawa Senators.

To say that the 2019-20 campaign has been a disappointment for Ottawa would honestly be a dramatization of what’s happened. Sure, the Senators have a 25-34-12 record, which was the second worst in the league before the pause, but they were never expected to compete this season.

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This isn’t the 2017-18 Senators, who were coming off a run to the Eastern Conference Final only to finish with a 28-43-11 record of the 2018-19 Senators, who went into the season without their first round pick and still limped to the finish line with a 29-47-6 record. This time around, the Senators were clearly a rebuilding team. Gone were Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel. Instead, the Senators enter the season being headlined by a promising young forward in Brady Tkachuk, an emerging star defenseman in Thomas Chabot, and not a whole lot else.

Ottawa entered the season with a 1-6-1 run that did nothing to challenge those low expectations. Over that early span, their offense was already being shown to be a weakness with Ottawa only scoring three or more goals in three of those eight games. After that though, the Senators started to come together and by Nov. 22nd, they had a 11-11-1 record.

Their rise to respectable came from unexpected sources. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had 13 goals and 19 points in 23 games while Anthony Duclair had 10 goals and 15 points in 23 games. That represented big spikes in production for both of them after Pageau finished 2018-19 with 12 points in 39 games while Duclair had 33 points in 74 contests.

Unfortunately for the Senators, it wasn’t sustainable. They endured a five-game losing streak from Nov. 25-Dec. 3 and then from Dec. 29-Feb. 11 they endured a stretch where they were just 2-9-7. What was different about that second, devastating stretch? One big factor was that Pageau and Duclair faded away. Over that 18-game slump, Pageau was limited to three goals and six points in 16 games while Duclair had four assists in 17 contests. No one else stepped up to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, the Senators’ goaltending continued to be a weak spot. Even before the 18-game slump, Ottawa’s netminders weren’t putting up flattering numbers. Anders Nilsson had a 3.18 GAA and .908 save percentage in 20 games through Dec. 28 while Craig Anderson had a 2.88 GAA and .909 save percentage. However, things get worse from there. Nilsson last played on Dec. 16th due to a concussion and Anderson was about to hit a hard slump.

So while the Senators’ offense was struggling from Dec. 29-Feb. 11, Anderson posted a 1-5-2 record, 4.07 GAA, and .881 save percentage in eight starts while Marcus Hogberg, who was filling the void left by Nilsson, went 1-4-5 with a 2.85 GAA and .916 save percentage.

With the Senators’ record at 18-27-11 by Feb. 11th and without any real thoughts of competing this season to begin with, the Senators shifted their addition towards selling what assets they could for picks and prospects. Dylan DeMelo was dealt to Winnipeg on Feb. 18th for a 2020 third-round pick and Vladislav Namestnikov was sent to Colorado on Feb. 24th in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round pick. Then on the trade deadline, the Senators managed to get a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a conditional third-round pick from the Islanders in exchange for Pageau.

The Senators managed to do alright after the trade deadline, posting a 4-3-0 record as the team settled into the spoiler role, but for the Senators, the real story will be the 2020 NHL Draft. Depending on how the conditions play out, the Senators could have three first-round picks, four second-round picks, and two third-round picks. That’s an insanely strong hand especially when you consider that two of those first-round selections – their own and the San Jose Sharks’ – could realistically be in the top-five.

It also gives them the flexibility to potentially trade some of those picks for NHL-ready talented in an effort to accelerate their rebuilding efforts. So this is going to be a key draft and summer for them which could play a major role in defining what the franchise is like for the next five-to-10 years.

Bobby Ryan – Ryan’s best years were at the start of his career. He surpassed the 30-goal milestone for four straight campaigns from 2008-09 through 2011-12, but has never come close to reaching that level since then. At the age of 33 though, it’s not inconceivable that he will be able to bounce back to some extent. He was solid in 2018-19 with 15 goals and 42 points in 78 games, but stepped away from hockey for most of 2019-20 in order to enter the NHL/NHLPA's player assistance program. After coming out of it, he had a hat trick on Feb. 27th, but has otherwise been quiet. That said, it’s hard to judge him on that given the rust factor. It will be really interesting to see how he does in 2020-21 with the opportunity to start fresh.

Brady Tkachuk – The Senators might have a bigger young star depending on how the 2020 draft goes, but for now Tkachuk is the face of their future. Tkachuk has provided the Senators with a blend of skill and grit in his first two seasons, but he has the potential to do a lot more offensively. After scoring 21 goals and 44 points in 71 games prior to the pause, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a meaningful step forward offensively in his third campaign. It’s also worth noting that he’ll become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021. The Senators have a reputation for being unable to hold onto their top talent, so it would be a big morale boost if they could lock Tkachuk up to a long-term contract on the first chance they get, especially after they managed to put a dent in that narrative already by signing Thomas Chabot to an eight-year, $64 million contract off his entry-level deal.

Erik Brannstrom –Chabot has established himself as a worthy number one defenseman, but what do the Senators have beyond him? The hope is that it won’t be long before Brannstrom is ready to step up as a top defenseman in his own right. The Senators acquired Brannstrom from Vegas as the centerpiece of the Mark Stone trade and he’s arguably the Senators’ top prospect at this time. He’s excelled in the AHL this season with three goals and 23 points in 27 games. He has also played in 31 NHL games this year, but he’s averaged a mere 14:51 minutes over that span and unsurprisingly didn’t do much offensively in that limited role. He has four assists over those 31 games. With DeMelo traded and Ron Hainsey as well as Mark Borowiecki both potentially on their way out as unrestricted free agents, Brannstrom should have an opportunity to play far more in 2020-21.

Anthony Duclair – With 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games before the pause, the 2019-20 campaign has arguably been the best of Duclair’s young career. He’s had a resurgence in Ottawa after falling out of favor in Arizona and underwhelming stints with Chicago and Columbus. However, Duclair hasn’t been a sustained presence for the Senators, scoring just two goals and 10 points in his last 29 games. So has Duclair truly taken a step forward or did he just enjoy a really good hot streak and now his 2019-20 numbers have been skewed as a result? Can he become a more sustained contributor going forward? Those are questions Ottawa needs to ask given that he will become a restricted free agent this summer.

Ryan Dadoun
Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.