Ottawa Senators general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion was busy this summer. He made several eye-catching additions to his roster, including forwards Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. Canada’s capital city club will also benefit from Jake Sanderson’s emergence at the professional level, with the 20-year-old set to slide into the top four.
While the 50-year-old has been coy about the prospect of a playoff return, he has not shied away from sharing his expectations for the season ahead. Dorion’s hope is for the Senators to “play meaningful games until the end of the year.” Period. It would be unacceptable for Ottawa to fall short of a playoff berth by a similar margin to last season. They must at least make life uncomfortable for last term’s playoff clubs, which will require standout performances from several members of the franchise.
With that in mind, here are three Senators who could push their way into contention for an end-of-season award. None of them are favourites, but an upswing in form could propel them into the limelight.
Jake Sanderson: Calder Trophy
Daniel Alfredsson (1995-96) was the last Senator to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. He is also the only Senator to win the award. However, a certain puck-moving defenceman could end the drought this season.
Sanderson is a top prospect with a shot at scooping the Calder Trophy if the Senators stick around in the playoff chase. He was selected fifth overall in the 2020 NHL Draft and arrives in the professional ranks after two successful seasons in the NCAA with the University of North Dakota. The Whitefish-born blueliner produced offence at more than a point-per-game rate in his final year of collegiate hockey and earned a place on Team USA’s roster for the Beijing Olympics.
However, he faces stiff competition in a competitive rookie class. Matty Beniers has enjoyed a breakout preseason with the Seattle Kraken and will benefit from driving his team’s offence. Mason McTavish is another forward to watch. The Anaheim Ducks prospect notched three points (two goals, one assist) during his nine-game trial last season and was prolific after his return to junior rinks. If he plays a prominent role for the Montreal Canadiens, Juraj Slafkovsky could also draw into contention.
Sanderson will have to overcome a positional rival, too: Owen Power of the Buffalo Sabres. He is also diving into the NHL from the NCAA and is tipped to be a standout rookie. However, Sanderson has one major advantage over his rivals. The Senators should be more competitive than Seattle, Anaheim, Montreal, and Buffalo. If he impresses and Ottawa fights for a playoff spot, he would have built a strong argument for the award.
Thomas Chabot: Norris Trophy
Thomas Chabot is a long-shot for the Norris Trophy, that’s undeniable. But he could skate into nomination territory if the Senators live up to expectations. After captaining Team Canada at the World Championships in Finland, the 25-year-old returns with the chance to beat his previous high of 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) in 70 appearances from 2018-19.
For the first time in a while, Chabot is on a truly competitive team with a crop of dangerous forwards. He will benefit from sharing the ice with the DeBrincat and Giroux, which should lift his offensive production into the range of Norris Trophy consideration.
However, he must also improve defensively to stand a chance of winning the award. Despite finishing last season as the team’s defensive leader in on-ice expected goals, Chabot still has work to do to be considered one of the league’s top blueliners. Chabot is paid $8 million against the salary cap. Now would be the perfect time for him to deliver a breakout season.
Pierre Dorion: Jim Gregory Award
It would take a major twist for Dorion to win the Jim Gregory Award for GM of the Year. However, it is not impossible after the credit he accrued this summer. He went from occupying the hottest seat in the league to being talked about in the same breath as Brad Treliving, who turned losing Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau into an advantage.
Dorion made several impressive moves in the offseason, starting with the DeBrincat trade. He followed up his early success by recruiting Giroux and Tyler Motte in free agency.
“We definitely have a higher skill team than we were last year,” Dorion said during a recent interview on Ottawa sports radio. “We’re a better team than we were last year as long as everybody is healthy.”
Injuries are already an issue for Dorion and could transform how his reshuffle in the crease is viewed. He dealt Matt Murray to the Toronto Maple Leafs and traded Filip Gustavsson for Cam Talbot. Few disagreed with his moves at the time.
However, Talbot’s five-to-seven-week upper-body injury could shift perceptions, with the Senators likely to open the season with a one-two punch of Anton Forsberg and Magnus Hellberg. If his team starts slowly, Dorion won’t be in the conversation for the Jim Gregory Award. His fate rests on the shoulders of his netminders.
Looking Ahead for the Ottawa Senators
Hockey is already back. The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators kicked off the season in Prague on Friday (Oct. 9). The Senators have one more exhibition to play before their season opener next Friday (Oct. 14). In the meantime, they will focus on finalising their lines, developing chemistry, and integrating Hellberg into the group.
An exciting season awaits the Senators. They’re finally fighting for more than a high draft pick; it is time for them to win.