The Ottawa Senators were one of the most improved clubs this off-season. General manager Pierre Dorion was busy as he bolstered his team by acquiring star forwards Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. Dorion also traded for Minnesota Wild goaltender Cam Talbot. These moves along with the growth of young players already on the club have the Senators poised to have a breakout year. Many are already placing the team in the playoff picture but that may not be an easy feat for the Senators this year.
Why the Senators are Fighting an Uphill Battle
Thin Defence Core
Pierre Dorion did everything but bolster the team’s defensive core this off-season. The team remains thin on defence and the question marks on the defensive core may be their biggest hurdle. Thomas Chabot is far and away the team’s best defenseman but outside of him, the defence core is average at best. 27-year-old Artem Zub has been solid for the Sens but ideally, he wouldn’t be a top-pair defenseman for the team. The teams veteran d-men Travis Hamonic and Nick Holden are past their primes and aren’t the ideal guys to shelter the youngsters. Jake Sanderson and Erik Brannstrom are the two young guns on the blue line but their play will largely dictate how the club fares this season. The two will need to continue their strong play to start the year if this team is going to be successful.
After acquiring Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild, the Senators thought they had found a steady solution in the net. Talbot put up solid numbers with the Wild last year as he managed a goals-against average of 2.76 and a .911 save percentage. However, Talbot was injured prior to the start of the season. The team announced that Talbot is expected to miss five to seven weeks to start the season as he deals with an upper-body injury. The club was then forced to claim 31-year-old Magnus Hellberg off waivers from Seattle. Hellberg will back up Anton Forsberg until Talbot’s anticipated return. The two netminders will have a hard time filling in for their fallen starter, however. The Senators will need to weather the storm in Talbot’s absence if they hope to make the playoffs.
A Stacked Atlantic Division
The biggest challenge to the Senators’ playoff hopes may very well be the division they are in. The team is unfortunately placed in arguably the toughest division in the league in the Atlantic. The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the top teams in the NHL and are almost a lock for the playoffs. Then you have last season’s Presidents trophy winners in the Florida Panthers. Some say the Panthers got worse this offseason, but they are still a top team in the division nonetheless. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins always seem to find themselves in the playoffs as well. At most, we can see five Atlantic teams in the playoffs depending on how things shake up in the Metro.
The Senators aren’t guaranteed that fifth spot either though. as the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and Montreal Canadiens all improved this offseason as well. While those teams aren’t expected to contend for a spot, you can’t count out any team in this league.
The Senators are a good hockey club that saw many improvements this off-season. Despite highlighting the negative factors and hurdles for this team, they have a lot of positives as well. They have one of the best top-six cores in the league with Stützle, Batherson, Norris, Tkachuk, and the newly-acquired Giroux and Debrincat. They also have a stud on the backend, Zub, and youngsters Brannstrom and Sanderson. If they all have good years it could erase the question marks on defence. And, if Forsberg and Hellberg can weather the storm until Talbot’s return, they look solid in the net as well.
However, that’s a lot of what if’s, especially in a gruelling Atlantic division. Making the playoffs may prove to be a tough task for the Ottawa Senators this season.
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