Senators’ Window of Contention Has Long Opening

With the recent announcement of Jake Sanderson signing an eight-year extension with the Ottawa Senators, fans have been getting very excited about the future of the club. With so many key players locked in long-term it is hard not to look at the bright side for the team. Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot and now Sanderson have all committed to the team and will be together for at the minimum of four seasons. While the Senators aren’t quite there yet, it is becoming clear that the window for Stanley Cup contention is opening and doesn’t look to be closing any time soon.

Related: Senators Sign Jake Sanderson to 8-Year Deal

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The first step is, of course, making the playoffs. The Atlantic Division is the tightest division in the NHL with seven of eight teams having realistic hopes for playoffs. The Senators are most likely to challenge for a wild card position this season, but moving forward they have all of the key pieces signed and a rising salary cap will make for a great situation.

Senators’ Salary Cap Situation

The Senators have just under $1 million in available cap space with Shane Pinto and Egor Sokolov unsigned. No matter which way you spin it, that is less than ideal. Whatever cap gymnastics the Senators are going to have to do to get them, especially Pinto, signed is a problem for right now, but the team is looking to be in a great position moving forward. As mentioned, all of the young draftees from the rebuild, especially at the top of the draft, have committed long-term.

Having so many players of this talent level secured under a flat-cap ceiling is impressive enough on its own, and outside of Jakob Chychrun and Pinto, the young core is locked up for four years at the minimum, with Sanderson having the most term with nine more years under contract.

By the time the four years is up, the only key players the Senators will have had to deal with are Chychrun, Pinto and Claude Giroux. All three of these players have expressed great interest in playing in Ottawa and the expectation is that they will return if given a fair option, but that isn’t even a conversation to begin yet with Chychrun and Giroux.

Claude Giroux Ottawa Senators
Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The salary cap is expected to climb around $10 million over the next three seasons, giving the Senators plenty of breathing room when dealing with these contracts. Like I said, dealing with Pinto now looks like it will be the hardest part of keeping this core together for a significant period of time.

Prospect Pool Has Potential, But Needs Improvement

The Senators are exiting their rebuild with the majority of their high-end prospects having graduated already. They traded their last two first-round picks who ended up being Kevin Korchinski and Daniil But. The 2022 pick was part of the package sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for Alex DeBrincat while the 2023 pick was sent to the Arizona Coyotes for Chychrun. These are two major impact trades, one of which didn’t work out as expected but still can’t be criticized harshly.

The prospect pool the Senators have accumulated to support the current roster and continue to develop has potential. As the Senators move into their contention window, young players with low salaries become even more valuable. Dayton Reimer posted the “Ottawa Senators 2023-24 Prospect Pyramid” laying out how he ranked each of the prospects in the system. Over the next three seasons there are plenty of players that could make that step and have a role on the roster. Ridly Greig, Zack Ostapchuk, Angus Crookshank, Tyler Boucher and Roby Jarventie are some of the top forward options that could provide this sort of value over the next few years while Tyler Kleven, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jorian Donovan and Donovan Sebrango could have this impact on defense.

Ridly Greig Ottawa Senators
Ridly Greig, Ottawa Senators (Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Goaltending is always a bit of voodoo, but Mads Sogaard and Leevi Merilainen look promising, and with the signing of Joonas Korpisalo and return of Anton Forsberg, they will have more time to develop than previously anticipated.

The Senators are entering the 2023-24 season with 15 picks over the next two drafts, including three first-round draft picks. They are in a great position to restock the prospect pool as they continue to play for a playoff berth and success in the postseason. Drafting has been hit and miss in Ottawa, but it is undeniable that they have drafted some very good players, even outside of the first round. With the arrival of Michael Andlauer as the owner of the team, the expectation is that he is going to start expanding the front office and get even more voices in the room to make the best decisions possible. This has already started with the hiring of Sean Tierney to kick off the analytics department.

High-End Players Are Eager to Win

Chabot and Tkachuk have been vocal about wanting to win over the past few years, but Stutzle and Sanderson have both expressed their desire for team success in the past week. After signing his big extension, Sanderson stated, “I think we’re going to win within the next couple of years, we know that. I want to be here for it. That’s the main thing, it’s why you play hockey, to win the Stanley Cup. That group in there, we’re ready for it.” This kind of confidence in your group is what you need, and the Senators have built a group worthy of this kind of confidence.

The Senators are close to taking a huge step in the right direction. One of the best top-six groups, an elite defense core and risky but promising goaltending are all in place for the team. With the salary cap’s rise, they will have room for even more improvements over the next few seasons.

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