As the fate of the NHL season hangs in the balance due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now time to evaluate the Ottawa Senators organization. When the season was “paused” on March 13, the Sens had a record of 25-34-12 through 71 games. This had them on pace for 72 points, and second-to-last place in the league. While the team was once again mediocre on the ice, certain positives were put on display. In a season that has mostly been terrible, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The On-Ice Product
The Senators’ record was obviously unacceptable in terms of wins, but a few players did stand out. Brady Tkachuk, whose rookie season opened the eyes of fans and made them realize how good a player he really is.
Through 71 games played in 2019-20, he had 44 points, which is only one point less than his total in 2018-19. Had he maintained his pace, Tkachuk would have reached 50 points, which is a career high. He also would have set a career high in goals with 24.
Marcus Hogberg presented himself as the Senators’ goalie of the future. While his stats were not overly impressive, what must be noted is how he handled himself in the crease. Originally coming to Ottawa as an emergency call-up from Belleville, Hogberg established himself as an answer to the goaltending woes. His .904 save percentage and 3.12 goals-against average this season was not ideal. However, you must factor in the team he was playing behind. In a full season, his stats will improve to at least league average. The 25-year-old is my choice to start in net next season.
While not a point producer, Mark Borowiecki took a step forward and established himself as an NHL defenseman. His spot on the team may have been in limbo prior to this season, but due to his play, he’ll be all but guaranteed a roster spot in 2020-21. Connor Brown and Anthony Duclair also had excellent seasons in Ottawa, so there is absolutely reason to look forward to the future.
A State of Cautious Optimism
I spoke to a few fans of the team, who gave me some insight into how they feel about the state of the team. Even though there was some progress made, some still felt the team needs a serious change. Alex McComb, an Ottawa resident currently studying at Western University in London, Ontario, described the Sens as “an embarrassment.” He compared the Senators to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and their years upon years of ineptitude and mismanagement.
Brandon Wilson, on the other hand, does have high hopes for the next step in Ottawa’s rebuild. He believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “I’m pretty excited [for the] future.” When evaluating the actual roster, there is reason to be excited about the team. As previously mentioned, several players have taken steps forward. In terms of the pipeline, a few prospects are poised to be graduating to the NHL level.
Wilson’s attention is focused on the upcoming NHL draft in June, where the Sens do have many picks, with a chance to acquire a once-in-a-generation player. He did give the franchise praise when it came to their development system. “[The team] is able to draft and develop players really well… Pierre Dorian has always been good at drafting… and being able to identify prospects.” For all of the problems Ottawa has faced over the years, they have been consistent at transitioning prospects to their NHL roster. Wilson added, “[Dorian] has built a good team.”
Erik Pollock, a Sens fan since he was a child, does believe that the team will get better. “I believe the Senators have a good future if they play [their] cards right.” The franchise does have an excellent system of development, and Pollock says he is looking forward to that, “We have some good younger players in Belleville… I believe our team could come around nicely in a few years.”
The Frustration With Ownership
The real issue, according to Wilson and Pollock, is due to ownership. The Senators have been plagued with issues regarding their retention of players once they are due for significant raises. Wilson cites past cases regarding Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Kyle Turris as reasons he doesn’t believe that the team is capable of keeping its star players.
Pollock was also quite critical of Eugene Melnyk himself, “I truly believe the main reason star players leave the team is because of [the] owner.” Pollock strongly maintains that Dorian and the management team cannot do much with the lack of funds that are put into the team.
Melnyk claims he will spend to the salary cap limit beginning in 2021, but Pollock needs to see it in order to believe it. (from ‘Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says he’s committed to building a winner,’ Ottawa Sun, 02/06/2019) “As a true Senator’s fan, we all knew we weren’t going to be a Cup contender for the next couple of years,” Pollock said. He lamented that he is frustrated with the state of the team, but was is looking towards better days.
The Senators have some issues regarding its on-ice product. That is very clear based on the season and with feedback from fans. However, the team does have reason to look forward to its chances to compete in the future.
Hopeful for a Better Future
With the main roster players taking a step forward, and the continued development of prospects, Senators fans do have reasons to be optimistic. Despite both Pollock and Wilson being very critical of the Senators, they did say that they are still cheering for the team. They are not happy, but they will continue to be fans.