The Ottawa Senators’ offense is now a legitimate threat to the league. With elite, spread out goalscoring, they can join the group of teams with at least two forward lines capable of overwhelming teams offensively from shift to shift.
The most recent Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche sent out multiple forward units with comfortable pairs of players that are a threat to score. Playoff teams do the same thing with less skill. As soon as teams invest the type of money into forwards like they have done, and will do in the near future, management is betting on a core group to take the team to the next level.
Being able to consistently deploy a one-two pairing punch of Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, and Alex DeBrincat will undoubtedly narrow the gap between the Senators and the playoffs. They should be the core pieces that remain in a standard location in the lineup, while other players like Claude Giroux and Mathieu Joseph shuffle around the order or fill out the top nine.
Lost in the offensive hype is the individual value that Stützle will gain by this addition. If he hasn’t improved in the faceoff circle, the freedom to move Giroux around the lineup could be limited, even if it’s under the guise of having a right-shot faceoff option. Giroux has been above 55 percent at even strength in each of the last eight seasons and hasn’t been below 50 percent since the 2009-10 season.
In 2021-22, Giroux kept his personal high standard going and posted a 58.27 percent faceoff percentage on 865 attempts at even strength. Of Stützle’s 462 attempts at even strength, he was successful on 37.23 percent. With Patrice Bergeron returning to the Boston Bruins for another season, the Atlantic Division remains a nightmare for most centers during divisional games.
Senators’ Top-Six Forward Pairings
The Senators can go in a lot of directions for the top-nine forward group, and it’s likely to change a bunch over the course of the season. The offseason additions give them the option to glue two players together in the top six as a season-long threat while building valuable chemistry.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where two “score-first” mentality players like Norris and DeBrincat mesh well together for an extended period that isn’t the power play. The former has been consistently working on goalscoring since his second year in the NCAA, while the latter’s dominance has spanned every league in his path.
Purely from a goalscoring standpoint, keeping Norris and DeBrincat apart forces teams to choose between a 35-goal scorer and a 40-goal scorer. Neither is a desirable opponent for a second line to defend.
With possession on a Norris/Tkachuk line, Norris leads the quality of the result, while Tkachuk is the driving force in getting the chance. Both players complement each other well and there’s enough evidence after two seasons to keep them permanently paired.
Last season, Norris struggled to stay above water defensively when separated from Tkachuk. In the 178 minutes at even strength that he was without Tkachuk, the Senators allowed an additional 8.4 shot attempts against per 60 and 3.9 more scoring chances against per 60.
The temptation to overload the top line by adding DeBrincat or Giroux will surely arise, but Tkachuk and Norris have caused enough damage on their own to justify keeping the wealth spread out. The idea of having Stützle and DeBrincat together for 800-plus minutes at even strength isn’t a bad thing and will likely have teams readjusting their matchup plans once the pair gets comfortable with each other.
Goalscorers terrify opponents more than any other player type when planning for a game. The impact of adding DeBrincat to the roster will be felt throughout the entire top nine. Adding Giroux is a chance to move around one of the better playmakers in the league and make the younger players better simply by being around him.
Senators’ Bright Offensive Cap Future
The Senators already have two star offensive players locked up long-term in Tkachuk and Norris, while avoiding adding any additional dollars to their contracts to influence them to stay like other Canadian teams have done.
This has given the Senators important salary cap freedom to offer Stützle and DeBrincat — if things go to plan — similar contract lengths. That likely leads to the Senators having one of the best cap hit value for their top six in the NHL. That’s a nice gold star for any general manager’s fridge.
This is all, of course, dependent on the development of Stützle this year, and whether DeBrincat wants to extend his stay in the nation’s capital. With current and future contracts considered, the forward salary cap future looks very bright for the Senators.