There isn’t long to wait now: the Ottawa Senators will return to the ice for their preseason opener vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs in less than three weeks’ time. In the aftermath of a busy summer at the Canadian Tire Centre, it will be a fascinating affair.
There has been plenty of talk about the team’s place in the pecking order this summer, especially after general manager Pierre Dorion masterminded impressive moves at the draft, via trade, and during free agency. Remarkably, the 50-year-old froze the NHL’s hottest seat and transformed the mood in Ottawa.
But, like every franchise in the sport, the Senators still have plenty of storylines to contemplate ahead of the new season. They’re better — in that there is no doubt — but by how much? Here are three plots to keep an eye on ahead of a crucial campaign in Ottawa.
Cam Talbot or Anton Forsberg: Who Starts on Opening Night?
Dorion’s best move of the summer was trading Matt Murray to the Maple Leafs. He won the deal, comprehensively, and later added quality to his crease by acquiring Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild for Filip Gustavsson.
However, upheaval in Ottawa’s crease creates an obvious dilemma: will it be newcomer Talbot or incumbent Anton Forsberg who secures the starter’s role? The answer, unlike the question, is far from clear. Forsberg and Talbot have produced remarkably similar results over the past two regular seasons, although the former Minnesota Wild stopper boasts more playoff experience:
|Appearances (Record)||Save Percentage||Goals-Against Average||Goals Saved Above Expected (Per Game)|
|Anton Forsberg||54 (25-21-5)||.916||2.88||14.5 (0.29)|
|Cam Talbot||82 (51-20-9)||.913||2.71||13.3 (0.16)|
It’s also worth remembering that Forsberg played an instrumental role for Ottawa last season. The Senators were drifting towards a miserable year before he produced a 47-save performance to steal a victory on the road vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. Thereafter, he was solid and trustworthy. Moreover, the 29-year-old has outperformed expected goals to a larger extent than Talbot over the last two campaigns, who enjoyed the protection of a playoff-calibre defence in Minnesota.
But it’s worth remembering why Talbot was made available to the Senators: he didn’t want to play second-fiddle to Marc-Andre Fleury and kicked up a fuss, albeit via his agent, George Bazos:
In other words, the 35-year-old is keen to see plenty of action and will use every tool at his disposal to displace Forsberg as the team’s incumbent No. 1. It will be fascinating to watch their duel this season.
Will Tim Stützle Enjoy a Breakout Season?
Speaking at the NHL’s preseason media availability in Paris, Tim Stützle revealed his excitement following the arrival of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, his linemates-to-be.
“I was super pumped to see those moves happen, but I think all the moves we made are really good,” the German forward said. “For sure it’s sad to see some guys leave. We had [a] really nice team, a lot of fun together, but in the end, I’m really happy about the moves we made. I can’t wait to learn from guys like that. I am still super young, and I think I can learn a lot from DeBrincat, Giroux, those guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with them and I can’t wait to get going, see the guys and get to meet them.”
It would make a lot of sense for head coach D.J. Smith to combine Stützle with DeBrincat and Giroux on Ottawa’s second line, especially after the 20-year-old’s switch to centre. He produced 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 79 appearances last term and is set to become the main beneficiary of Dorion’s spending spree.
However, there is a catch for the Adler Mannheim product: he is now firmly under the spotlight and faces rising expectations after signing an eight-year, $66.8 million extension. The question, then, is whether he will deliver on his early promise. Stützle, a former third-overall pick, has amassed 87 points (34 goals, 53 assists) in 132 appearances, which only scratches the surface of his potential.
After securing a lucrative new contract, it’s time for the German to deliver. Will he?
Will the Senators Punch Their Ticket to the Playoffs?
Although the new-and-improved Senators are surrounded by a lot of hype, the franchise still has plenty of roadblocks to bypass. Firstly, the level of competition in the Eastern Conference has risen this offseason. Secondly, Ottawa finished 27 points outside the playoffs last term. In other words, Smith’s team faces an uphill battle to secure a spot in the postseason. However, Stützle is optimistic about the club’s chances.
“We want to be in the playoffs, and I think that’s why we made the moves,” he said. “We talked about that in the exit meetings too, that we have to make moves to be in the playoffs. They fully committed to that, so everyone is really happy to get back to Ottawa.”
Summer arrival Giroux added: “I wouldn’t sign here if I didn’t think we had a chance to win the Cup. You have to build on that one good season and you need to have an identity.… I’m not saying we’re going to win the Cup this year, but the plan is to build on it and have baby steps.”
Ottawa’s place in the playoff picture is by far the most significant storyline surrounding the franchise heading into the new season. For a team that hasn’t had a sniff of postseason action for half a decade, it has been an exciting summer. The roof might come off if they start the campaign strongly. Watch out.
Ottawa Senators Approach Crucial Season in High Spirits
With a frantic offseason in the rear-view mirror and the start of training camp just around the corner, head coach Smith has plenty of reasons to be cheerful. His best players are tied down to long-term deals, he will be reunited with DeBrincat, and Giroux looks hungrier than ever to hit the ground running.
“Well, we’re significantly better,” Smith told TSN in a recent interview. “DeBrincat I’ve known since junior… coming out he got 50, then 60 and change and 60 and change. He’s had 41 a couple of times in the NHL. I mean this is a bona fide scorer that can score in all situations… he kind of fits into our M.O. where we’ve got a lot of jam, we play hard and he’s young. He fits right into the group.
“Giroux, being from here and a guy with that kind of experience, we haven’t had a guy that’s been around and been an elite player in the NHL that’s going to be around to not only contribute still but to provide leadership, real leadership, for these young guys.”
It has been a while since the Senators were expected to deliver anything more than a place in the draft lottery. Now, the time has come for them to deliver.
Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.