Few foresaw he Ottawa Senators reaching the playoffs in 2019-20, so the season was far from a disappointment in that regard. In fact, the year went better than most could have expected in several other ways.
In spite of the 25-34-12 record, the Senators actually produced several feel-good highlights for Senators fans. Here they are ranked in terms of their overall significance:
5. Debut of Scott Sabourin
Journeyman forward Scott Sabourin finally got to play in the NHL this past season, signing on with his hometown Senators. It was only a one-year, two-way deal, but his first foray into the NHL has to be considered a success, regardless of his mere six points or the concussion that helped limit him to 35 games.
Admittedly, Sabourin likely wouldn’t have gotten the chance had he signed a professional tryout for another NHL team. Nevertheless, there’s little way to minimize the accomplishment’s significance as the Senators are his sixth since 2015-16. Even if he moves on as a free agent, he’ll always have it and his NHL debut, in which he scored against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, to look back on fondly. Senators fans too.
4. Return of Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan’s tenure with the Senators hasn’t gone smoothly. Despite coming over in a trade as a still-26-year-old, he has been unable to replicate the statistical success he enjoyed with the Anaheim Ducks as a four-time 30-goal scorer.
Now 33, it’s unlikely Ryan will get the chance to, as he’s past his prime and his ice time is diminishing rapidly. At his peak with the Senators, Ryan had been averaging over 17 minutes per game. This past season it was 13:30, just above Jayce Hawryluk. It gets worse once you add in how Ryan took a three-plus-month leave of absence to deal with ongoing alcohol-abuse problems.
Ryan’s return to action was notable for several reasons. Firstly, he scored a hat trick in his first home game back against the Vancouver Canucks, his first multi-goal game in four years. Secondly, the emotional comeback earned him a nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Ryan may not win it nor will he realistically ever be completely out of the woods in his ongoing battle with addiction, but it was a great, memorable step on the road to recovery.
3. Re-Emergence of Anthony Duclair
All of a sudden, Anthony Duclair knows how to play hockey again. It was touch and go for a while, as the one-time promising New York Rangers prospect, who had scored 20 goals and 44 points as a rookie with the Arizona Coyotes, had fallen on hard times.
Between that one season and his trade to the Ottawa Senators, Duclair had scored just 57 points in 167 games on three different teams, at one point failing to get qualified by the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s not even taking into account the inexplicably harsh heat from John Tortorella, his ex-head coach while he was still with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which presumably led to his trade to the Senators.
No one is saying Duclair’s 40-point season is proof he’s a stud, but it is a good sign that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke and that, at just 25, he can still enjoy a long career. Hopefully, a good portion of it will be with the Senators, assuming they negotiate with the restricted free agent wisely.
2. Signing of Thomas Chabot
The Senators undeniably paid a great deal to re-up Thomas Chabot just prior to the start of the season. That’s the point, though.
Cynics might say it’s too much too soon, as the Senators rewarded the then-22-year-old for the 55 points he scored in 2018-19 with an eight-year, $64 million deal. Realistically though, considering they had been forced to trade away Erik Karlsson, their captain and stalwart defenseman, the previous season, it was an almost-necessary move.
Ideally, the Senators would have extended Chabot to more of a traditional, affordable bridge contract. However, they’d have been rolling the dice on having to potentially pay even more if he continued to enjoy much the same statistical success. In this day and age, with now seven defensemen boasting cap hits of $8 million or higher, it’s very much conceivable that would have been the case.
As it happens, Chabot took a slight step back, “only” scoring 39 points on a team largely devoid of high-end offensive talent. He’s effectively the straw that stirs the drink, in that respect. If you can’t pay him top dollar, you can’t pay anyone. Plus, considering inflation and his projected career trajectory as a top-pairing defenseman, the contract itself projects as a steal sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, the Chabot signing may have been an overpayment for right now. However, it’s a sign that the Senators are willing to commit to a star player in the making, to the future success of the rebuilding organization and their fans in the process. With the team struggling on the ice currently, the future is all they’ve got.
1. How Much the San Jose Sharks Struggled
About that Karlsson trade… What was once a questionable deal based on the return the Senators got is looking a lot better now based on how badly the San Jose Sharks soiled the bed this season.
It’s safe to say, a lot more had been expected this season from a team that reached the Western Conference Final in 2018-19, Karlsson’s first with the Sharks. They ended up just above the Senators in the standings in terms of points percentage, which must be a huge embarrassment.
In contrast, from the Senators’ perspective, it’s a huge victory. Now, general manager Pierre Dorion is sitting pretty with a decent chance at both the first and second overall picks ahead of the NHL Draft Lottery.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch to include another team’s futility on a list of feel-good moments for Senators fans. However, not a single one can honestly say they didn’t smile scoreboard-watching and witnessing the Sharks struggle to stay afloat in the West and drown in the end. They say misery loves company, but Senators fans must be overjoyed at how this season played out for both them and the Sharks. This is better than the best possible scenario for which they realistically could have hoped.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.