Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Ottawa Senators.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 Ottawa Senators
Last season wasn’t the worst season imaginable for the Ottawa Senators, but much like the rest of Canada, it did not reap the reward of playoff hockey. The Senators finished the season in fifth in a relatively competitive Atlantic Division. With a 38-35-9 record, and coming off a playoff appearance the year before, it makes for a reason to hope for better in the near future in the Canadian capital.
Despite the fact that they did not make the playoffs, there’s at least a definite indicator as to why they missed out, and it surely wasn’t the offense. The Senators were impressive in their scoring abilities last season, finishing tied for seventh in the entire NHL with 236 goals on the season. However, the negative side of the story is that they had the third worst defense throughout the season, finishing only above the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames.
Leading the way in scoring last season was captain Erik Karlsson, who is well-known for being an offensive force from the back end. Karlsson had yet another impressive season in which he was a point-per-game player, racking up 16 goals and 66 assists over all 82 games. Following in behind Karlsson was 24-year old Mark Stone, who had 23 goals and 61 total points, good for second on the team.
Another point for optimism for the fans in Ottawa is that the top nine scorers from last season were all 29 years or younger, and all are returning for the 2016-17 season. This points to the fact that the impressive offensive output could very well be replicated this year, but will the blue line shore themselves up for a playoff push?
Another player that had a decent season, relative to the outcome of the team, was veteran goalie Craig Anderson. Anderson carried much of the workload for the Senators last season and had a respectable record of 31-23-5 record over his 60 starts in 2015-16. His 2.78 goals against average and .916 save percentage were rather pedestrian by many standards nowadays, but with the possibility of improved play from the blue liners, both of these numbers could improve.
The off-season was a moderately active one for the Senators, as they made a few moves to change the look of the roster for the upcoming season, likely for the better.
The first move they made was to bring in more youth, trading Alex Chiasson for Patrick Sieloff. Sieloff was the 42nd overall pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Flames. Sieloff is a good sized defenseman at 6’1″ and 201 pounds, and he is a left-handed shooting defenseman as well. He is a very exciting prospect for the blue line in Ottawa, and if you want to learn more about him you need look no further than our prospect profile on Sieloff.
Trading Chiasson for Sieloff wasn’t the only trade the Senators made this off-season either, as they shipped out Mika Zibanejad and a second-round pick in 2018 to the New York Rangers in exchange for Derick Brassard and a seventh-round pick in 2018. This was a welcomed trade, as Brassard is a top quality forward to add to an already potent offense. For reference, Zibanejad had 21 goals and 51 points last season with Ottawa while Brassard had 27 goals and 58 points with the Rangers.
Along with these two trades with a good deal of upside to both of them, both in different ways obviously, they were able to re-sign and extend the contracts of many core players this off-season as well. Cody Ceci signed a two-year contract, 2016 first-round choice Logan Brown signed a three-year entry-level contract, and Mike Hoffman re-signed on a four-year contract.
Another note of optimism, outside of trades and contract talk is the amount of cap space the Senators have coming into the 2016-17 season with. Per General Fanager, the Senators are set to have approximately $6 million in cap space, plenty enough to make moves if needed. In this regard, they are in a much better position than a plethora of other teams and are not going to be hard-pressed if a good deal arises before the trade deadline this season, even if it means exceeding the club’s internal cap.
2016-17 Line Combinations
Mike Hoffman – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Zack Smith – Derick Brassard – Bobby Ryan
The addition of Brassard to the second line is a good one for an already potent offense, and should give another boost to the Senators. Look for Brassard to have another good season, most likely improving on his numbers from last season with the Rangers. Playing with the likes of Ryan and Smith will create plenty of opportunities to see Brassard go over the 30-goal mark for the 2016-17 season, and there’s no reason he can’t see at least a slight upgrade in his assist total as well.
The depth forwards for the Senators are another point of hope for an organization looking to force themselves back into the playoffs after a year off. Players like Curtis Lazar, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, and Tom Pyatt are going to have to play an important part in making sure the production, in regards to goals, stays relatively on par with last season. If this is the case then Senators fans might be in for a pleasant surprise come playoff time, in the form of extra hockey.
As for the depth players pushing for a roster spot and/or looking to be on the NHL roster with being a healthy scratch, there is a few names that immediately come to mind.
Firstly, Pyatt will likely get some ice time this season but will be hard-pressed to dress every night with such a strong bottom six.
As for names that have been making noise in pushing for a roster spot, look no further than Nick Paul and Matt Puempel. Puempel played 26 games with Ottawa last season, scoring two goals and three points in the process. Puempel did have a relatively strong season with Binghamton though, having 12 goals and 32 points in the AHL. As for Paul, he spent the majority of last season in the AHL as well, scoring six goals and 17 points in the process. Paul did have a 24-game stint with the Senators last season in which he had two goals and three assists as well.
You might have also noticed that there is an asterisk next to the name of Curtis Lazar on the third line. This is because Lazar is currently dealing with a case of mono, leaving him out of training camp. One of the main reasons he isn’t even around training camp is the fact that it is very contagious and he has been recommended to stay away until it has cleared up. As for when this will actually go away is unclear, but most cases of mono take around four to six weeks for full recovery.
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
The blue line is one of the more precarious issues facing the Senators coming into the 2016-17 season, and it’s not for their ability to help put the biscuit in the basket.
Karlsson and Methot are a great pairing that adds a bit of balance to the top of this depth chart. Karlsson will likely be pushing a point per game, as usual, and Methot will be quite a way off that pace, but is a very solid defenseman when it comes down to it.
As for the second pairing, the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf last season in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs was a great addition, especially when paired with young defenseman Cody Ceci. Phaneuf brings a great presence to the locker room, something that can prove to be an invaluable tool when a team is going to be battling for a wild card spot, which is likely where Ottawa will find themselves near the end of the year.
In his 20 games with the Senators last year Phaneuf had one goal and eight points, a respectable output from a second pairing defenseman. As for Ceci, he was the only defenseman not named Karlsson in the top six that got double-digit goals, having 10 goals and 26 points in 75 games last year.
The bottom pairing of Borowiecki and Wideman will also be playing a crucial role this season in hopefully shoring up what was a porous blue line last season. Despite the fact that not much offensive production is expected from either, they can both play in the third pairing relatively effectively when at the top of their games.
Another defenseman to look out for in Ottawa is Thomas Chabot. Chabot is a left-handed shooting defenseman, is a smooth skater who has the ability to move the puck very well, something that will fit in well with the scheme in Ottawa. The 19-year old was the 18th overall selection of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Senators. Despite the fact that he is very promising, it is likely that he won’t make his NHL debut this season.
With all due respect to Hammond, anyone with any inkling of knowledge on this organization is well aware that Anderson is going to be the number one goalie going into the 2016-17 season. Anderson carried much of the weight, getting little to no respite from his backup during the 2015-16 season. Hammond only started in 20 games and played in 24, having a record of 7-11-4 with a 2.65 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, numbers that don’t come anywhere close to his scintillating debut season when he single handedly carried the Senators to a playoff berth.
The hope is that there will be a combination of improved play by the men in front of Anderson, and slightly improved play from Hammond to take some of the weight off the shoulders of the starter. Anderson will still very likely get somewhere between 55-60 starts next season, but Ottawa will be hoping for more than seven wins from Hammond if they are to really challenge for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Players To Watch
Although Chabot is still very likely one to two years away from making the roster for the Senators, he is still a very exciting name to track during the season. He has had nothing short of an impressive three years in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs, racking up 24 goals and 108 points over 168 games with the organization. He went from scoring just a single goal in his first season with them to having back-to-back seasons of double-digit goals with 11 and 12, respectively. He’s a very exciting prospect, and is most definitely a name to keep an eye out for in the very near future of the organization.
Paul is another prospect in the Senators pool that is a name to pay attention to. Paul was acquired via a trade with the Dallas Stars in July 2014 as part of the trade that saw Chiasson join Ottawa and Jason Spezza head to Dallas. He had a great last year in the OHL with the North Bay Battalion in 2014-15 in which he scored 37 goals and 66 points in 58 games. He had, as stated before, a relatively sound showing in the AHL last season in Binghamton and earned himself 24 games with the Senators for that as well. Keep an eye on Paul during training camp and the preseason to see if he lands on the roster.
Newly acquired Brassard should be an exciting player to watch this season in Ottawa. Coming off the back of a 58-point season in New York should make for a very excited fan base in Ottawa. Brassard made a name for himself while playing for the Rangers in scoring 69 goals and 174 points in 254 games for his former club. He will add a new dimension to the already potent Senators offense that will surely keep them on pace with their scoring output from the 2015-16 season.
Players On The Rise
Ryan was one of the American-born forwards left off the Team USA roster for the World Cup of Hockey, which was said to be because he was labeled as a “defensive liability.” With that as a bit of fuel to the metaphorical fire, and the fact that he’s coming off a productive season should mean for a rise in production.
Another point to take note of is that management has already stated that Ryan will be slotted into a line with Brassard, definitely someone you’d like to have next to you. Ryan will likely continue his level of production, 22 goals and 56 points in 2015-16, and may even have a slight increase to see him break the 60-point mark this year.
Puempel played in 26 games last year for the Senators, and a grand total of 39 throughout his short career thus far. He has scored four goals and added two assists, nothing to write home about, but that’s not a worry for someone who is only 23 years old.
It’s being reported by almost every source close to the Senators training camp that Puempel is making a push to make the roster this season, so pay close attention. If he isn’t lucky enough to get his big break, expect him to still get periods of games throughout the 2016-17 season at the NHL level.
Player On The Decline
Kelly has been a decent bottom six forward throughout his 13-year NHL career, and will likely be welcomed with open arms back to the Canadian capital. However, if you are expecting a large offensive presence from Kelly, likely on the fourth line, you’re going to be in for a bad time.
Kelly is 35 years old now and it’s becoming more and more evident that age is setting in, so the addition is good for depth but not much else. Look for Kelly to be a healthy scratch on a fairly regular basis, giving some of the younger names in the organization a chance to get some time with the Senators.
MacArthur will more than likely be getting a substantial amount more ice time than the other name on this list, but likely won’t be producing at a much higher rate. He’s a decent bottom six forward, but not much else outside of that. To be entirely honest on the outlook, he’ll earn his paycheck, but not much else. At 31 years old he still has a few years left in the tank, but don’t expect big numbers from MacArthur in 2016-17.
The 2015-16 defensive debacle is now in the past, and should be used as a warning sign for this upcoming season. The offense will be hard-pressed to continue at the high pace at which it did last year, but will likely still be well into the upper third of the NHL. This means that Anderson and the blue liners will have to try to match their counterparts to make a push in the Atlantic Division for a playoff spot, likely a wild card spot.
Anderson will look to continue his strong showings in between the pipes, and the blue line should be improved, maybe even just slightly. Look for the Senators to make a decent push for the playoffs come the end of the season.
Final Prediction: The Senators will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division, falling in line behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Detroit Red Wings. Their slight improvements defensively and continued offensive output will result in them making the playoffs as the second wild card, and likely losing in the first round because of their defensive deficiencies.