2017-18 team-by-team NHL season outlook: Previewing the Ottawa Senators
A return to the playoffs is possible, but an aging goalie highlights some nicks to a stout defense
As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 20th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
After three seasons with no better than a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Division, the Senators found a way to turn their defensive tendencies into a playoff ticket, enduring record attendance lows at home under new coach Guy Boucher and general manager Pierre Dorion, taking a 44-28-10 record into the postseason. With push from veterans on defense, including blue-liner Erik Karlsson and goalie Craig Anderson -- the latter of whom became a league-wide story as his family fought off-ice tragedy along the way -- the Senators outlasted consensus expectations, topping both the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers for a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. It was there they were bested by the eventual repeat Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but even at that stage, Ottawa didn't bow out without a fight, taking Game 7 into double overtime.
Pressed to build off an unexpectedly gritty finish to the 2016-17 campaign that began with little thrill, the Senators know better than anyone they have a high bar to top, especially after a so-so summer. Still, it's reasonable to suggest Ottawa has high hopes for making back-to-back playoff trips for the first time since 2013.
Oduya comes in with name recognition and Stanley Cup Final experience, plus Dorion was able to buy some time with young center Jean-Gabriel Pageau on a reasonable extension. As a whole, however, the Senators probably lost a lot more than they gained simply because of Methot's departure. The veteran D-man was exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in June's expansion draft in part because of a separate Ottawa issue this summer (Dorion's failed attempt to have blue-liner Dion Phaneuf waive his no-movement clause) and wound up merely as a trade chip for Vegas in a later deal with Dallas.
If Phaneuf's refusal to waive his clause, which Dorion later played off as something in which the Senators should take pride, doesn't lead to more shuffling of the defensemen, Ottawa is still well positioned to carry out Boucher's low-scoring approach. But the team's offseason was hardly a step forward for a team that has lofty postseason aspirations.
The Senators made the 2016-17 playoffs a whole lot better, if only because they walked right over critics who suggested they were "too boring" and taking advantage of offensive spurts to down favored postseason opponents like the Bruins and the Rangers, then come close to knocking off the defending champs. Outside of an adjusted blue line to account for Methot's departure, the Senators don't look drastically different from their slow, steady ascension to the conference finals, either. Karlsson Kyle Turris is still in the fold, of course, as are Phaneuf, Pageau and still-overpaid Bobby Ryan. Throw Oduya in there, and you've got the recipe for another playoff contender in a division that could be wide open.as he recovers from foot surgery, but his presence alone will give the team juice.
The concern is that Anderson, at 36, will have a hard time replicating his strong close to the playoffs over the course of another season. Remember, too, he was actually pulled from the net multiple times before coming up big at the tail end of the East finals. Mike Condon is on board as a potential replacement, but would he be enough to make up for a potential defensive drop-off post-Methot? That's the question, because Ottawa doesn't seem bent on redefining itself as some kind of high-scoring juggernaut, either. If the team's dream is a return to the playoffs, that's feasible. Much like the Nashville Predators, though, expecting to peak in an even bigger way is probably asking a little too much.
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