The Ottawa Senators aren’t likely to contend for a Stanley Cup this season. They lack a true number one centreman, some defensive depth, and an elite goaltender.
But they do have some nice pieces for the future, including Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot, to name a few. But what might their roster look like by the 2024-25 season, three years from now? Which players might develop into key contributors? Which players will they move on from?
To project the 2024-25 Senators lineup, I looked at every roster player, prospect, and draft pick to formulate a team that could contend for the Stanley Cup. As we’ve seen over the years, teams stacked with skilled players don’t always succeed in the playoffs (I’m talking about you, Toronto Maple Leafs), so I tried to create a balanced lineup. I also didn’t want to add too many players from trades or free agency, just leaving the roster as untouched as possible in order to decide if the pieces that the Senators have right now could lead this team to a Cup.
2024-25 Forward Lines:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
There are some very glaring additions to these forward lines. Firstly, the addition of Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, or Conor Geekie is absolutely paramount if this team hopes to contend by 2024-25.
Of the last 20 Stanley Cup Champions, arguably only one team has won the title without a true number one centreman, the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils. Instead, they had the tandem of Scott Gomez and Joe Nieuwendyk, which is still a pretty damn good combination. If the Sens have an opportunity to draft or trade up to draft one of these three, they need to. Otherwise, they’ll have to address this hole in their lineup through trade, which means giving up a key piece, or through free agency, which is nearly impossible due to the lack of true number one centremen on the market any given year.
The next key addition here is Oliver Bjorkstrand. This isn’t an absolute must, as there’s the possibility that other players in the system or lineup could fill this void. One of Connor Brown, Egor Sokolov, or Tyler Boucher might be able to plug into that spot by then. But good contending teams have depth at all positions; adding Bjorkstrand would be huge, and it would give the Senators a second scoring line. He’s arguably one of the most underrated forwards in the NHL, “He’s strong on the puck. His reads are amazing. His hockey sense is really good,” Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda wrote last week in a piece for the NHL. He is signed for the next five years and isn’t too expensive either, giving the Senators cost certainty until 2026. He plays for a rebuilding team in Columbus that might put him up on the market for the right price, perhaps for a first-round pick and a prospect or two.
It’s a possibility, and if not, they could target Vladimir Tarasenko, who requested a trade out of St. Louis last year and is due to become an unrestricted free agent by 2023. Other options include Conor Garland and Ryan Strome, both of whom could provide some scoring punch at a reasonable number.
Other additions include the two prospects mentioned above, Boucher and Sokolov. These players both bring an important element to a contending lineup: physical forward play. Boucher reminds me of Alex Tuch. He uses his body, but he has great scoring touch as well, which is why he was picked 10th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Egor Sokolov has a lot of the same tools but lacks the pedigree, as he was drafted 61st overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Both of these players have the potential to be difference makers by 2024-25.
Obviously, there are some names missing from this lineup. If the Senators want to contend, they will likely have to move on from Colin White, Zach Sanford, and Austin Watson. There’s nothing particularly wrong with these players; it’s just hard to see where they would fit in this lineup three years from now.
White has been somewhat of a disappointment after signing a six-year, $28.5 million contract. He has been injured, and lacked effective point production even when given big opportunities in the top-six. Sanford and Watson are not disappointments per se; they could be subbed into this lineup if Alex Formenton, Alex Boucher, or Egor Sokolov do not become effective players.
There are some younger players who could also push for spots in the 2024-25 lineup, including Ridley Greig, Victor Lodin, and Roby Jarventie. These three will likely still be too young, in the AHL, or somewhere on the fringes of the lineup by then, but here’s to hoping that they prove me wrong.
2024-25 Defense Pairings
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
Again, there are some big additions, beginning with Jake Sanderson. He’s off to a hot start in the NCAA this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can wrestle the number one spot from Thomas Chabot by then. I fully expect him to be a prototypical number one defenseman that quarterbacks a power play, defends efficiently, and uses his physicality to take over games in the playoffs. If he isn’t able to supplant Chabot on the top pairing, it will be because Chabot possesses superior skating and passing skills. We will see how he develops.
Lassi Thomson has looked effective since his Senators debut. He may not be ready for the NHL full-time, but he has all the tools to become a top-four defenseman for this team by 2024-25. The reason I have him slotted on the top pair is simply that he’s right-handed. He may end up better suited to the second pair, with Sanderson playing at the top with Chabot. Other options to fill out the top four could be Josh Manson, Damon Severson, or Ryan Pulock. While Severson and Pulock might make the cap situation tight, Manson becomes a UFA this summer and would likely command less money than he makes at the moment. He also brings a physical edge that is somewhat lacking in this lineup. If the Sens choose to sign him, Artem Zub or Jacob Bernard-Docker might be expendable.
Erik Brannstrom has been hot and cold throughout his tenure with the team, but the fans still believe in his potential. If not for that reason alone, I kept him in this lineup. He could make a great second power-play quarterback if he can get his confidence back and prove to be effective in his own end. Jacob Bernard-Docker looks like he could be a solid bottom pairing guy, or jump into the top four if need be.
There are a lot of current Senators missing from the future defense pairings that I’ve constructed. The first obvious name that comes to mind is Nikita Zaitsev. Although he has been somewhat effective and a big minute-eater, it’s hard to see him being a top-four guy on a contending team. Even if he takes a significant pay cut, Artem Zub and Jacob Bernard-Docker should be better options by then, and adding Manson would give the team a big body on the back end, something that will be important come playoff time.
Also missing are Victor Mete, Nick Holden, and Michael Del Zotto. Mete has been okay this season, and if Brannstrom doesn’t pan out, he is a logical replacement on the bottom pair. Whereas Holden and Del Zotto would likely just be too old for the team by 2024-25, though they could be used as seventh defensemen if they sign a cheap contract.
There are also a couple of young defensemen in the system who could push for a spot in the lineup by then. Ben Roger, an alternate captain for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, is a big-bodied defenceman who could someday play on the bottom pairing. Another big defenseman, Tyler Kleven, is currently plying his trade with the University of North Dakota, and is a lock for Team USA at the World Junior Championships (World Juniors). He might also push for a spot on the Senators by 2024-25. Both Roger and Kleven bring a physical element that the team is currently lacking on the back-end.
The potential of this team rests on the shoulders of Filip Gustavsson. No pressure, right? So far, he has handled everything that has been thrown at him. He’s had success in Junior, the World Juniors, professionally in the Swedish Hockey League, the AHL, and now with the Senators. All signs point to the fact that he will be an elite goaltender by 2024-25 or sooner. If not, this team is in trouble.
But maybe Mads Sogaard has something to say about that. The kid from Denmark looks to follow in the footsteps of Frederik Andersen and become the next great Danish goalie. He’s 6-foot-7 and moves well for his size. He might be too young to be a starter by 2024-25, but if he stays on track, he should have the backup spot locked in by then.
If neither of these goalies pan out, there are a few options out there for potential starters. Daniel Vladar is off to a hot start in Calgary, with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. He’s still just 24 years old, and might be on the market given the performance of Jacob Markstrom. Other options include the Jets’ Eric Comrie, who is off to a hot start as well, or Joonas Korpisalo, who has had a couple of tough seasons in Columbus but has been a strong playoff performer in the past and might be available due to the emergence of Elvis Merzlikins. Linus Ullmark might also be a good option if he loses his starting position in Boston.
As I wrote about the other day, the Matt Murray trade was a mistake. The Senators can’t win a Cup with an inconsistent or oft-injured goaltender. Murray can be an absolute show-stopper, but he tends to let in a soft goal at inopportune times as well. With his $6.25 million cap hit, he’s an expensive risk, one that the Senators should move on from.
As for Anton Forsberg, he came into a tough spot as soon as he joined the Senators. He bounced around the league on the waiver wire, and when he arrived in Ottawa, he played behind a porous defense. At age 28, he might be able to stick around for a backup role, but his potential as a starter will not come to fruition in Ottawa.
This lineup is absolutely a Cup contender. With a number one centreman, along with dynamite linemates, the top line looks like one to be feared for years to come. Tim Stutzle brings lightning-fast hands and poise, and Drake Batherson looks like a Mark Stone prototype; he simply makes good plays up and down the ice.
The second line of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Oliver Bjorkstrand seems lethal as well. Tkachuk can do anything this team needs; he reminds me of Jonathan Toews but with a lot more bite and snarl. Norris’ play speaks for itself; he can play a 200-foot game built for the playoffs. Bjorkstrand brings high-end skill to the line that is otherwise very defensively sound.
The third line of Tyler Boucher, Shane Pinto, and Connor Brown would make for a great shutdown line. They would be the type of line to rely on in tough spots, and would grind their way back to the offensive zone if they got stuck.
The fourth line is more of a leftover, with some variability come 2024-25. If this line stays together, they could be effective, with the speed of Alex Formenton, the size of Sokolov, and the defensive acumen of Chris Tierney. Otherwise, the coaching staff might go with a more traditional, grinding fourth line with Nick Paul and Zach Sanford with Sokolov.
On defence, the 2024-25 Senators could be stacked. With two superstar defensemen in Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson and some solid potential behind them, the Senators could bolster one of the best blue lines in the league. If the Senators decide to add a big body like Josh Manson, I like their chances even more. In net, Gustavsson simply needs to become an elite goalie for this team to contend.
The Cap Situation
You might think this lineup looks great and that they could contend in 2024-25. Well, if you were doing your math while reading, you would’ve noticed that the team, as constructed, is $10.25 million over the cap. While the cap might increase by 2024-25, there’s also a chance that it doesn’t, leaving a team like Ottawa, with a couple of big contracts already, handcuffed. Where can the Senators shed a few dollars to make this team fit under the cap?
That will all depend on how their players and prospects develop over the next few years. In addition, some of the younger players listed, like Boucher, will likely still be on the entry-level deals in 2024-25. But that may only last for a year past 2025, so I’ve listed these players with their potential second contracts.
Here’s a possible situation where this team fits under the cap:
- They draft Conor Geekie or Matt Savoie instead of Shane Wright, which could save them around $3 million.
- Columbus retains part of Oliver Bjorkstrand’s salary ($1.5 million).
- They move on from Chris Tierney and sign a cheaper option or use Nick Paul ($250,000).
- They sign Josh Norris for $5 million instead of $6 million ($1 million).
- Artem Zub stays at $2.5 million. ($500,000).
- Eric Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker sign for $1.5 million each ($1 million).
- Filip Gustavsson signs at $5 million instead of $6 million. ($1 million).
- If Lassi Thomson signs at $3.5 million instead of $4.5 million. ($1 million).
- If Tyler Boucher signs at $2 million instead of $3 million. ($1 million).
All of these add up to the $10.25 million needed to get under the cap if it stays flat. Or the Senators could hire a cap wizard like Brandon Pridham, who has got the Leafs out of a couple of tight cap jams.
As you can see, this fairytale of how the Senators might contend for a Cup in three years is going to be tough to pull off cap-wise, but it’s possible. With the pieces they have today and one big draft pick this summer, the fans will have something to cheer for again in no time.
Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.