The Ottawa Senators currently sit on their bye week with 50 games played and a record of 24-23-3. Unfortunately, that places them sixth in their own division and eight points out of a playoff spot. They do have games in hand on a few of the teams ahead of them, but it is still a long climb. Entering their break on a four-game winning streak, fans keep asking if this is the Ottawa Senators team we will see consistently. The key to sustained success may just be an overhaul of the Ottawa Senators’ depth.
Ottawa Senators Depth Key Issue
It has to be said that the Ottawa Senators’ depth has been tested more than expected this season due to a long list of injuries. However, this is something every team deals with. Yes, it hurts having Josh Norris miss the entire season. But for a team that wanted to make a run at playoffs, that can’t derail everything.
The good news is they are starting to get some health back with names such as Tyler Motte and Mathieu Joseph returning to the lineup. With this will mean naturally some names will be pushed out of the lineup. However, there still is more work to be done. Not to mention, it is possible a name like Motte moves at the trade deadline.
Lines as Constructed
Brady Tkachuk – Tim Stutzle – Drake Batherson
Alex DeBrincat – Ridly Greig – Claude Giroux
Tyler Motte – Shane Pinto – Mathieu Joseph
Derick Brassard – Parker Kelly – Austin Watson
Extras: Dylan Gambrell, Mark Kastelic
As you can see, the Ottawa Senators’ depth certainly isn’t overwhelming. Down the middle sure is intriguing when you remember Norris will be back next season. However, for now, the bottom six certainly lacks firepower. Especially when you consider as soon as someone gets hurt it means Gambrell jumps back into the lineup. Gambrell isn’t an awful depth piece by any means. But he doesn’t bring a ton to the table either.
If we assume that the only piece removed from this team at the deadline is Motte (expiring UFA unlikely to return), what could the Ottawa Senators depth be changed into?
The biggest issue with the Ottawa Senators depth this season has been the lack of overall production. Again, losing names like Joseph hurt that for sure. But it shouldn’t be a reason that the top six needs to do seemingly everything. Brassard has performed admirably in a third-line role, considering he started as the team’s 13th forward. But Pinto playing on the third line seems a lot better of a situation.
The biggest issue? Four points in 48 games from Kelly, six points in 48 games from Watson, one point in 31 games from Gambrell, and five points in 43 games from Kastelic. Yes, these guys aren’t expected to score every night. But to have four guys be on pace for less points than a 90’s enforcer would put up and play that many games? You are doomed to go through bad stretches.
Good NHL teams have players all the way down the lineup that can help when needed. They don’t make the difference every night. But if there is an off-night where the top-six just can’t score? You need your depth to step up. For Ottawa, that just hasn’t happened. Even worse? All four guys named rank 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th in CF% for Sens forwards. That is 12-15 out of 15 players. If you’re doing absolutely no scoring AND you are getting outplayed at 5v5, you’re likely not an NHL calibre player.
The first thing people may point out is that a lot of the guys just named are also used on the penalty kill. And while that is fair, that can’t be the only high point of your game. Especially since we have seen the Sens start to use guys like Stutzle on the penalty kill to just as good, if not better effect.
The other issue is the absurd amount of defensive zone draws they take. The majority of their line starts are on the fly. However, they rank dead last among Senators forwards for offensive zone starts as well. With Watson, Kelly, and Kastelic all in the 20-30% range. Part of this is on the coach, as they have proved they are not a line that should be used so heavily defensively. However, part of the issue is likely with the personnel itself too.
You can’t blame the coach for not wanting to start them in the offensive zone very often when it is clear most of them lack clear offensive talent. There needs to be a better balance there and one has to wonder if finding players with a higher skillset will allow that.
Fixing the Depth Internally
In a perfect world, all of the players named earlier as issues are out of the normal lineup. That may not be possible this season, but the Sens need to try and get as close to it as they can. You simply can’t have more than one or two forwards on pace for 50+ games played and on pace for less than 10 points in a full season. Let alone four!
The good news? Not all of this improvement needs to be external. The previously mentioned Greig has already started to step in and looks amazing early on. He has allowed Pinto to slide back down to the third line and Brassard to shift to the fourth line where both are way more comfortable. Now, it is about expanding opportunities for young guys. Egor Sokolov is crushing the AHL with 40 points in 44 games played this season. Bring him up and let him be the Motte replacement. at the deadline. Or if you keep Motte, even better! Let Motte slide down to line four and Sokolov get a chance on line three.
Jake Lucchini is another name that impressed somewhat in his short time here. He also only had one point in 11 games. However, his underlying numbers were stronger than the current group of bottom players and his skating/feistiness could make him a solid penalty killer as well.
The other option would be to go and look for players that are cheap and won’t cost much to acquire as an alternative on what you already have. This may be a more difficult option as it seems unlikely you would want to pick up a pure UFA. If that is the case then you would likely just keep Motte. Which may happen regardless.
However, if the Sens wanted to, they could look to target someone like Jason Dickinson, who was cast off as a salary dump earlier this year. The 27-year-old makes $2.650 million for one more season after this one. While that may be a tad rich, he does have 18 points in 45 games on a horrid Chicago Blackhawks team and would no doubt be an upgrade on the current Ottawa Senators depth.
That type of player would be something that is possible to look at. Cheap, and an option for the future as well.
Need for Change
Overall, something needs to change if the Senators truly want to stay “Playoff Competitive”. Their current four-game winning streak is thanks to the same reasons most of their winning streaks have been this year, their top players. And that is fine for stretches at a time. But at some point, you need an ounce of help from the depth. If they keep the top six the same and do decide to sell at the deadline, maybe we see a new-look depth option to finish the year.
Sokolov – Pinto – Joseph
Luchhini – Brassard – Kaestelic.
Again, not perfect, but possibly better. The other option would be to keep someone like Motte and/or acquire a player along the likes of Dickinson.
Sokolov – Pinto – Joseph
Motte – Brassard – Luchhini/Dickinson
Regardless of what exactly happens, if the Ottawa Senators truly want to see improvements in the back half of their season, it is the depth that needs to step it up.
Photo credit: Gary A Vasquez – USA TODAY Sports