The Ottawa Senators have started the season shakily, their offseason moves have made little impact, and it’s clear that the franchise needs to make at least three changes to turn their fortunes around in 2023.
Setting specific and achievable resolutions for the New Year is the perfect way to address the situation the Senators are in and analyse how they can improve in the months ahead. In this article, The Hockey Writers will share three objectives for the organisation to help improve their performance on the ice and lift the spirits of the fanbase.
Whether it’s adding another puck-moving defenceman to the blue line, improving their offensive efforts at 5-on-5, or finding ways to better support their netminders, these resolutions could help the Senators ensure that the New Year is an improvement on 2022.
Resolution 1: Decide Alex DeBrincat’s Future ASAP
Alex DeBrincat arrived at the Canadian Tire Centre via a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks to fanfare. He, in association with free agent signing Claude Giroux, was meant to elevate the Senators into serious contenders to make the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Senators and DeBrincat, reality has played out differently than expectations. While the American has produced offence at a point-per-game rate since his transfer from the Blackhawks (13 goals, 22 assists), he hasn’t been able to transform the team’s fortunes — especially at even strength.
Now the Senators have a decision to make. DeBrincat’s contract (which is worth $6.4 million on the salary cap) expires in the summer, which will see him become a restricted free agent. His qualifying offer is a balmy $9 million for 2023-24.
Here’s the catch: DeBrincat will become eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024, meaning the Senators are running out of time to tie him down for the long haul. Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion has two options: extend his world-class forward or flip him at the trade deadline.
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The Senators would be wise to extend DeBrincat. If the diminutive playmaker is open to an offer in the $9 million range, Dorion should move heaven and earth to find a workable solution. He’s the kind of player any franchise would want to keep on their books.
However, there is a chance that DeBrincat would prefer not to ink a long-term deal in Ottawa. The Senators are still miles from Stanley Cup contention, would be thin in the top-six without him, and are in the middle of an anxiety-inducing takeover. In that context, why would he stay?
The Senators should be prepared for both eventualities and willing to act quickly either way. If there isn’t a path to an extension for DeBrincat in Ottawa, Dorion should make it his mission to acquire as many assets as possible at the deadline. If his squad is heading for another playoff miss, they may as well maximise their chances of a high draft pick.
Resolution 2: Improve Team Defence
The Senators must improve their team defence in the New Year. They have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net this season, often leaving their netminders exposed between the pipes. For Ottawa, improving in their own zone will be essential if they want to turn their season around.
After the team lost 5-1 to the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, head coach D.J. Smith blasted his players to the local media. It wasn’t the first time he has spoken publicly about his team’s struggles, nor is it likely to be the last.
“It just wasn’t good enough, right from the get-go,” he told reporters in Manitoba. “We’re just not sharp. No execution on breakouts. Turnovers. You get far too behind and the game is over.”
That has been a theme of the season for the Senators. They have a habit for shooting themselves in the foot with poor execution on the puck and a lack of concentration when trying to defend their crease.
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Unless the Senators add another defenceman to the mix, improving their defensive structure is the most realistic path to improved results. It’s time to play with more discipline in Ottawa.
Resolution 3: Turn Expected Goals into Reality
The Senators rank 15th in expected goals share, ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, and Winnipeg Jets, according to Money Puck. But that isn’t exactly new information. Dorion has been talking about his squad’s promising underlying numbers since November.
“I know the record doesn’t indicate it, and I know a lot of us are frustrated with the 4-7-0 record, [but] – for me – we would be in a way better spot with a few bounces, but we haven’t been as fortunate,” he said at the time. “Overall, we’ve lost every game by a goal, we’re playing hard, and – analytically – we’re sixth in the league at 5-on-5 expected goals differential. Last year, we were 30th. There’s a lot of positives there.”
In the eight weeks since Dorion held his state of the franchise media availability, the picture hasn’t changed very much. The Senators still boast impressive underlying numbers, which they remain incapable of converting into actual results. Here are the team’s latest expected goals tallies from Money Puck:
|Ottawa Senators||Goals For||Goals Against||Goals Difference|
The Senators have one major issue they need to address: they just aren’t converting enough of their chances. They have conceded four fewer times than expected, but are serial underperformers when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net. Regression to the mean, better puck luck, and better finishing would do the trick. Will it arrive in 2023?
Looking Ahead for the Ottawa Senators
The Senators have a number of areas they need to address to turn their fortunes around in the New Year. However, their top resolutions for 2023 should be to quickly decide on DeBrincat’s future, improve their team defence, and find ways to turn their expected goals into reality on the ice.
If the Senators focus on those areas, they will give themselves a chance to compete with the top teams in their division and reassert themselves as potential contenders of the future. It’s time to turn over a new leaf in Ottawa.