Senators’ Defense Will Be Different After Offseason Additions

The Ottawa Senators have had a relatively quiet summer thus far. Besides losing goaltender Joey Daccord to the Seattle Kraken and creating a buzz at the NHL Entry Draft with the selection of Tyler Boucher at No. 10, they still have yet to address some of their biggest question marks going into this upcoming season. While they did extend head coach D.J. Smith to a new deal, they have yet to lock in Brady Tkachuk.

The emergence of Josh Norris last season was great but expecting him and younger prospect Shane Pinto to hold down the first and second-line centre position isn’t wise. General manager Pierre Dorion still has his hands full with these issues and more, but he has managed to add some pieces on the backend. So exactly how will the newest acquisitions fit into this lineup? Let’s take a look at how Nick Holden and Michael Del Zotto could find their way into the everyday rotation.

The Acquisitions

When the free agency period opened up at noon on July 28, Dorion got to work by making a trade instead of a signing. He had sent Evgenii Dadonov, who signed the last offseason to a three-year, $15 million deal, to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a third-round pick in 2022 and Holden. While Dadonov had an underwhelming campaign with the Senators last season, most were hoping he would bounce back this upcoming season, providing he wasn’t claimed by the Kraken or traded. That will now have to be seen as Golden Knight.

Later that day, Dorion, in a separate deal, inked the veteran d-man Del Zotto to a two-year deal that carries a $2 million average annual value (AAV). The 31-year-old will earn $1.75 million this season and $2.25 million in 2022-23. Holden, 34, has one year remaining of the two-year deal he signed with Vegas back in Feb. 2020 with a cap hit of $1.7 million.

Nick Holden Vegas Golden Knights
Nick Holden with the Vegas Golden Knights last season (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)

From what we know, Holden and Del Zotto seem to be nothing more than depth pieces for the Senators’ blueline. Not to mention, Dorion was still able to add an extra $1 million in cap space during this time. It remains to be seen what that little bit of extra cap room will do for them, but it’s always good to have in your back pocket. Holden, who is 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds, played in just 17 games for the Golden Knights last season, but his physical attributes are why he was acquired.

It’s also how Vegas used him during the most important time of the year where physicality rises to the occasion – the playoffs. He started the playoffs on the taxi squad but was quickly brought into the lineup against the Minnesota Wild during Game 2 of the first round and didn’t look back. He managed to get seven points in 15 playoff games.

Michael Del Zotto Columbus Blue Jackets
Michael Del Zotto with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last season, Del Zotto played in 53 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, finishing with four goals and 13 points. Much like Holden, it will also give the Senators experience on the back end. Del Zotto has played in 710 games in his career with six different teams. He might be way past his prime since his days as a New York Ranger, but the Sens want to make sure they have enough bodies to go through a full 82-game schedule. Now that they are back in the Atlantic Division, where they will be playing much tougher teams on a nightly basis, Dorion did great in acquiring some insurance pieces.

Where Will They Fit In the Lineup?

With training camps just over a month away and staff being relatively quiet over the summer, there’s no way of knowing exactly how the defence will look for the Senators come October. It is, however, safe to assume that Thomas Chabot, Artem Zub and Nikita Zaitsev will carry most of the minute load, but where do the rest come into play? Victor Mete, Josh Brown, Erik Brannstrom and youngster Jacob Bernard-Docker will all be fighting for minutes with Holden and Del Zotto. One positive is that at least the Sens will have some healthy competition on the backend, which should elevate their play.

It was reported that Del Zotto had five teams approach him during the free agency period. It’s quite a rarity that when a player has more than a few options in front of him, with Ottawa being one of them, that they ultimately choose to go to the nation’s capital.

“I had four or five other offers. I did my homework before I got into free agency, and things definitely changed with the expansion draft, because there were a lot of moving parts. I still knew which teams had some holes that needed to be filled.

Ottawa was at the top of the list. Once I’d heard from them, and spoken to (Dorion) and (Smith), and known that they had done their homework on me as well, I was definitely flattered. It’s a team that’s trending in the right direction; you look at what they did in the second half of the season and I love the way that D.J. has them playing. They play with a little bit of that old-school mentality with some jam, especially in the East because not many teams play that way.

And there’s not many teams that want to play that way every single night. With me going into my 13th season, there’s a lot of experience and veteran leadership that I can provide with the team.”

– Michael Del Zotto
from ‘GARRIOCH: After speaking with Senators, Michael Del Zotto felt Ottawa was the right fit’ Ottawa Citizen, 04/08/21

While the Senators do seem to be going in the right direction, as Del Zotto alluded to, you’d also have to think that he was promised a bigger role outside of just a veteran presence with experience. According to Senators reporter Bruce Garrioch in that same article, he had mentioned that Del Zotto would get a chance to play in the top four. If that’s the case, it would make a lot more sense as to why he would sign a two-year deal here.

Nashville Predators Viktor Arvidsson Vegas Golden Knights Nick Holden
Former Nashville Predator Viktor Arvidsson vies for the puck with former Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nick Holden (AP Photo/John Locher)

Holden, on the other hand, is a less polarizing name and will most likely assume the five or six spot among the Senators’ defensive group. The bottom pairing could be one of Holden/Mete, Holden/Brown or Holden/Brannstrom. The Sens wouldn’t have given up on Dadonov so easily and trade for a player they wouldn’t use. Holden brings the toughness that Brown has but his lack of experience is where Holden gets the upper hand. Pairing him with one of the younger players in Mete or Brannstrom would seem like where the Sens envision him.

It has yet to be seen whether or not Brannstrom is actually with the team come October as rumours have started surfacing about the Sens looking to offer him in a trade for either another top-six winger or centreman. This has Sens fans very upset as they want to see the young Swedish defenseman given more of an opportunity first.

This is all speculation and projection until we actually get a sense of how the lineup looks in training camp. However, it seems that both Del Zotto and Holden will get significant opportunities to play big minutes. There will be injuries and bad play throughout the season, so it’s once again a great sign to see Dorion covering his bases, but it has everyone wondering how it will shape out.