With only 11 games left in the NHL season, it is very difficult to imagine the Ottawa Senators making the playoffs this year. The remaining games on the team’s schedule do not look easy either, as nine of their 11 games are against teams with more points in the standings.
Due to Ottawa’s budgetary constraints as well as a lack of notable pending unrestricted free agents (don’t expect them to be able to land Steven Stamkos), next season’s lineup may be very similar to this year’s. There are a few pending restricted free agents, but those young players have made good impressions and likely will be back competing for jobs.
|Clarke MacCarthur||Kyle Turris||Bobby Ryan|
|Mike Hoffman*||Mika Zibanejad||Mark Stone|
|Zack Smith||Jean-Gabriel Pageau||Curtis Lazar|
|Nick Paul||Ryan Dzingel*||Alex Chiasson*|
*restricted free agent
The forward group is the one that is most likely to see changes during the off season. With a total of four forwards set to become restricted free agents, general manager Bryan Murray may decide not to keep every one of them. If all of them come back next year, at least one the younger ones in Matt Puempel and Ryan Dzingel will most likely begin the season in Binghamton.
With Mike Hoffman and his situation, Ottawa will try to trade him if no deal seems fair to both parties. If he does not return to the team next year, another top-six forward will have to come in and replace him if the Senators hope to see any improvement next season, either through free agency or a trade.
Will the Tampa Bay Lightning accept trading Jonathan Drouin for Hoffman’s rights and a promising young defenceman such as Thomas Chabot? Ottawa may have to add yet another piece – such as a first-round draft pick – in order to beat out teams such as the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues, who both have more valuable trade pieces to offer.
|Marc Methot||Erik Karlsson|
|Dion Phaneuf||Cody Ceci*|
|Mark Borowiecki||Chris Wideman|
*restricted free agent
The defence corps looks like it could remain the same next year. With a $10.4 million cap hit investment in Karlsson, Phaneuf and Methot, as well as Cody Ceci due to receive a raise, the top four defencemen are set to return together next season, while investing quite a bit of cap space between them.
Patrick Wiercioch has been in trade rumours for a couple of years now, Ottawa may just decide not to qualify him as a restricted free agent if they yet again fail to find a taker for him. They may not get any asset in return for him, but they could relieve themselves from paying him to not crack the lineup on a consistent basis.
Chris Philips is also very unlikely to return, as his contract expires at the end of the season and he has not played at all this season due to his cracked vertebrae. There is a high probability that he retires at season’s end.
Unless management has a complete change of heart, Craig Anderson should be returning as the starting goalie next season. He has played well all season despite his team’s tendency to surrender opportunities in quantity and quality game in and game out. He has done well in giving Ottawa a chance to win every game.
Andrew Hammond looks like he will remain an NHL backup goaltender. He has not posted impressive numbers this year in the few games that he has played, largely due to inconsistent performances. He should return as backup to Anderson next year.
With several teams seeking to sign him this past off-season after a strong college career, prospect Matt O’Conner struggled mightily during his first year as a professional with the Binghamton Senators, with only six wins against 17 losses with a 3.42 GAA and a 0.866 save percentage. He will have to have at least another year of professional development.
A couple of days before the trade deadline, Ottawa made a minor league trade with the Buffalo Sabres involving several players. Forwards Jason Akeson and Phil Varone were among the assets that Ottawa received in return and, since joining the farm team in Binghamton, have each been scoring more than a point per game on average and are first and second in team scoring. Both 25 years old, they could be the ones to look at to compete for spots with the NHL club during training camp if they receive qualifying offers as restricted free agents.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the Senators will end up in the draft due to a changing position in the standings and the results of the draft lottery. Looking at the standings prior to their game on Thursday night, seeing them draft around the tenth position in the first round is realistic.
If that turns out to be the case, based on the NHL’s central scouting midterm’s rankings, drafting centre Michael McLeod from the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads is a strong possibility. One could describe him as a highly skilled power centre with deft puck-handling skills and is difficult to contain. If Ottawa manages to land him, he would make the organization’s prospect depth at centre very strong. He would most likely spend at least another year in junior, but will have a chance to play for a spot in training camp.
It will be interesting to see if the Ottawa Senators can find a way to fix the inconsistencies that potentially got in the way of another playoff berth. Whether it’s making roster changes or changes behind the bench, fans are hopeful that the organization can turn a corner soon.