After a Rough Start, Where do the Ottawa Senators go From Here?

Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Pearson (70). Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Pearson (70). Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

The Ottawa Senators are in a lot of trouble.

As any sports fan can attest to, it can be amusing sometimes to watch another team struggle, particularly if they’re a long-time rival of your favorite team or have one or multiple players on their roster that you dislike for whatever reason. Of course, when I was younger, I myself fell victim to this same trend, particularly growing up in Montreal. The hatred of the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the bitter rivalries instilled over decades of hard-fought battles both on and off the ice.

As a sportswriter nowadays though, I tend to stray away from directly having a favorite team or having any biased viewpoints towards other teams. I enjoy the sport of hockey more so for its rich history and appreciation for the skill and talent of the numerous players across the professional hockey landscape, rather than cheering for any particular franchise. While I myself have been amused by other teams’ struggles, particularly in sports outside of hockey like in the NFL and NBA, what happened Thursday night was anything but amusing.

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Whether you’re a diehard fan of the Vancouver Canucks or not, you can’t help but look at the scores on both Thursday and Wednesday and realize that this isn’t something anyone wants to see. In 2018-19, the Detroit Red Wings endured a season not seen in the NHL since the days of the Pittsburgh Penguins pre-Sidney Crosby. Having posted a 17-49-5 record prior to the NHL season’s suspension due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Red Wings were the NHL’s worst team by a wide margin. Despite this, the team has managed to put a solid fight so far this season, albeit with a still below average 2-5-1 record following a 7-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

While I had thought that Detroit’s season was something that was merely an anomaly in the modern-day NHL, the Senators, if their first eight games are anything to go by, seem to be on pace to repeat that feat, and its something that has quite frankly, been depressing to watch. Prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, Ottawa was, in my opinion, one of the more intriguing teams to watch, having made a number of acquisitions to bolster what had been a very depleted roster following the departure of star forwards Matt Duchene and Mark Stone.

Former Third overall pick Erik Gudbranson was brought in to bolster the defense, Evgenii Dadonov was signed out of Free Agency to add some offensive punch up front, and two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray was acquired to hopefully give the Senators reliable goaltending once more, following the decline and subsequent departure of long-time starter Craig Anderson. Couple that with the introduction of top prospects like Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson, and it looked like Ottawa would at least be a fun team to watch, if not the most successful.

Tim Stützte (18)
Tim Stützle #18 of the Ottawa Senators. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) /

The Ottawa Senators Have Little Answers With a 1-6-1 record eight games into their 2020-21 season.

Well, eight games into this season, and the Senators have just been a mess. I typically don’t like to offer up any real controversial opinions in my writing, at least not in a fashion that is inciteful and or divisive, however, I simply can’t find any other words to express how Ottawa’s season has gone so far. With a record of 1-6-1, the Senators are far and away the black sheep in the all-Canadian North Division, despite sitting just two points back of the second to last team, the Calgary Flames. While Calgary’s three consecutive losses versus the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens aren’t very encouraging, they possess a number of top stars in Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, and Sean Monahan. Their lack of success can more so be attributed to struggles with consistency and a lack of production, than the roster itself. Ottawa, on the other hand, simply hasn’t gotten anything out of its top players, at least in a fashion that gives them a chance to win.

Murray’s struggles from the 2019-20 season, that ultimately led to the Penguins going with Tristan Jarry over him to be the team’s starter, has seemingly continued in Ottawa, with the former Third-Round pick posting a 1-3-1 record with a bloated 4.40 GAA and a save percentage of just .859. Backup Marcus Hogberg hasn’t fared much better, with an 0-2 record and a 4.33 GAA, after posting some promising, if underwhelming numbers last season with a 5-8-8 record and 3.12 GAA. Neither Hogberg, Anderson, or journeyman Anders Nilsson did much to cement themselves as the starter in 2019-20, as Ottawa still managed a respectable 25-34-12 record considering the lack of talent available. With Nilsson and Anderson having signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, respectively, though, the Senators again have no true answer in goal.

Austin Watson (16)
Ottawa Senators forward Austin Watson (16). Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

Murray’s reputation for consistency and big game performances in his first few seasons in Pittsburgh simply hasn’t carried over, as the player Ottawa expected to be their number one option, is looking more like a third stringer at best. Up front, Norris and former Fourth overall pick Brady Tkachuk have been the only players to truly answer the call offensively, recording 2 goals and 3 assists each. Norris and Batherson’s strong showings with AHL Belleville in 2019-20 seem to be carrying over to the NHL and have at least given a glimmer of hope for the Senators future. Aside from that, though, little has gone right.

Only Nick Paul, Nikita Zaitsev, Filip Chlapik and Micheal Haley (the latter two of which have only played one game) have posted an even or plus +/- rating, with both Gudbranson and defenseman Mike Rielly posting -8 ratings. Gudbranson has yet to establish himself as a true minute muncher in the NHL, in spite of his high expectations coming out of junior. With him now being on his fifth NHL team, the Ontario native has done little to show that he’s a top pairing defenseman, though its admittedly difficult on an Ottawa team lacking in any true first pairing options.

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With their next game against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, Ottawa will face another test in the form of NHL superstars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, albeit with a tired and overworked Mikko Koskinen between the pipes (unless Troy Grosenick is activated from COVID-19 protocol). After establishing themselves as a perennial contender over the 2000s, Ottawa seems to be returning to the days of their inaugural 1992-93 season, where they posted a10-70-4 record as Norm Maciver (remember him?) led the team in scoring. While its still early into the 2020-21 season, Ottawa seems to be set for a tough, difficult to watch road ahead, as they struggle to stay afloat in a tightly contested, North Division.