Ottawa Senators 2017-18 Season Preview: What to Expect

Out to prove their run to the Eastern Conference Final last season wasn’t a fluke, the Ottawa Senators already have their backs against the wall.

They could be without their leading scorer from last postseason in Erik Karlsson, as well as their fourth and seventh-leading scorers (Derick Brassard and Clarke MacArthur respectively) on opening night. Although Karlsson and Brassard are progressing well and there remains an outside chance one or both could suit up opening night, MacArthur remains out indefinitely.

Derick Brassard could play for the Senators on opening night as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s an inauspicious start for a team whose terrific run in the playoffs elevated expectations coming into the 2017-18 season. Especially considering their offseason activityor inactivityhopes were running high for a repeat performance from the Sens this season.

The Senators’ Quiet Summer

The most noteworthy action involving the Senators this offseason (other than Daniel Alfredsson leaving the team) involved Brassard and Karlsson each going under the knife. As for the on-ice product, their biggest departure of the summer came during the expansion draft, where the Vegas Golden Knights selected defenceman Marc Methot (who they later flipped to the Dallas Stars).

They also lost Viktor Stalberg, who left the NHL to sign in Switzerland, and they chose not to bring back Tommy Wingels and long-time Senator Chris Neil. Their additions similarly flew under the radar as they signed Johnny Oduya to add some veteran experience to the blue linea move that looks even more genius with Karlsson’s injuryand depth forward Nate Thompson.

Chris Neil will not play for the Senators this season after the team opted not to sign him in the offseason. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Of all the departures, the loss of Methot is the only one that really stings, especially so given Karlsson’s injury that leaves the Sens without a legitimate top-two defenceman to start the season. Instead, the Sens trusted in their depth and youth to be able to fill the vacancies on the rostera gamble that appears to have paid off.

Brown in, Chabot Out

In what can most accurately be described as the biggest shock of the preseason, the Senators sent phenom blueliner Thomas Chabot to the minors on Oct. 1. The move comes as such as surprise given the Senators’ lack of top talent on the back end at the moment (the potential pairings for opening night border on cringe-worthy) and Chabot’s status as a high-end prospect.

Also demoted to Belleville was Ben Harpur, though his demotion comes as less of a surprise given the fact he isn’t quite ready for the rigours of an 82-game season just yet (not to mention he would have to replace someone in the lineup). Up front, the news is equally surprising but for just the opposite reason, as there were a couple of rookies who unexpectedly cracked the roster.

The talk of camp for the last week-plus, 18-year-old Alex Formenton signed his entry-level contract, signaling the team’s intent to keep him around at least in the interim. It should be noted, though, that GM Pierre Dorion has said he will not stay in the NHL if Guy Boucher is going to use him as an extra forward (i.e., make him a healthy scratch).

Also making the team after a surprisingly strong performance in the exhibition season is Logan Brown. Like Formenton, Brown is still junior eligible and though no one in the organization has said as much as of yet, don’t be surprised if he is returned to junior in the coming weeks to allow him to play more frequent and more meaningful minutes.

Stability in the Crease

One factor that can’t be overlooked when evaluating the Senators’ chances of a repeat season is the play from their goaltending duo of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon. Anderson has proved his worth in the past as being the type of goalie cable of singlehandedly willing his team to success, and Condon has shown time and time again that he can shoulder a heavy workload.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson will be looking to build off a strong 2016-17 season to help lead the Sens back to the postseason. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

That the Sens are in need of strong goaltending in a league where playoff aspirations often live and die in the crease does not make them unique. But if they hope to survive the early part of the seasonwith up to three of their best players potentially out of the lineup at any given timeand stay in the playoff picture, they can ill afford any hiccups in net.

Fortunately for the Sens, Anderson has found his groove the past few seasons and at least one preseason prediction has him winning the Vezina Trophy this season. Condon, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which he was largely responsible for the Senators’ playoff fate, and now has job stability for the first time in his career after signing a multi-year deal in the offseason.

The Duchene Saga

I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least some mention of Matt Duchene in the Senators’ season preview. Sure, Joe Sakic is more indecisive than Hamlet himself when it comes to nailing down his asking price for his star centre, which makes the likelihood of getting a deal done all the bleaker, but it can’t hurt to wonder.

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene
The Senators continue to have conversations about trading for Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

At just 26 years old, Duchene is coming right into the prime of his career and would be a tremendous addition to a team with eyes on a second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finaland more. But if that addition comes at the expense of Thomas Chabot or Colin White, plus Cody Ceci, another prospect and a draft pick, the Sens would be smart to walk away.

Another possibility that has been floated around, though the chances of the deal getting done remain to be seen, is a Duchene-Kyle Turris one-for-one swap. Turris is a pending free agent and Duchene is clearly unhappy with his current situation, so the trade is one that could work out for both teams (though the Sens would no doubt prefer to find a way to get Duchene and keep Turris).

Year of the Contract

One of the main storylines this season is the number of pending free agents on the Senators roster, Turris foremost among them. Contrary to what the Turris-Duchene rumours would suggest, Turris and his camp are in the process of negotiating a long-term deal to keep Turris a Senator for the next seven to eight years.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators
Kyle Turris is a pending free agent at the end of 2017-18 and is seeking a long-term deal to stay in Ottawa. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

A durable and reliable player on the iceTurris has missed just 29 games since 2012-13and a stalwart off it, getting Turris locked up long-term should be the highest priority. Also playing for a long-term contract is Mark Stone, whose defensive acumen is well noted but who needs to improve his consistency in the offensive end if he wants to be rewarded financially.

Where the waters get a bit muddied is on defence, where Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Mark Borowiecki, Johnny Oduya and Chris Wideman are all free agents after this season (the former two are RFAs). Oduya isn’t too much of a concern as his Senators career likely begins and ends in the 2017-18 season, but here’s a quick rundown on the rest.

Ceci: Clearly highly valued by the Senators, given their reluctance to include him in any deal with the Colorado Avalanche, but needs a strong season to prove he can excel in Boucher’s system

Claesson: Young, still lacking some experience, but appears to have Boucher’s trust and will likely get a multi-year deal

Fredrik Claesson, Ottawa Senators
Fredrik Claesson, a pending RFA, figures to be a part of the Senators’ long-term plans on the blue line (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Borowiecki: His future could be in doubt as a left defenceman in an organization with an influx of young lefthanders in Belleville

Wideman: The ever-coveted right-handed puck mover, his future with the team could also be hindered by Ottawa’s young crop of blueliners (but a midseason trade could make sense)

Prediction Time

Not knowing what the health of their best players is at the moment or will be in the opening weeks of the season, it’s tough to make an accurate prediction. Assuming Karlsson is out for the first two to three weeks of the season, the likely scenario sees the Sens stumble out of the gate and lose some early ground on the competition, but not so much that it’s insurmountable.

The Sens will be playing from behind all season but will snag a wild-card spot. Still, in a year where the Eastern Conference once again looks very strong, they won’t get past the second round of the postseason.