Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators.
2023-24 Ottawa Senators
The 2022-23 season was another season of ups and downs for the Ottawa Senators. However, the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators know the time is now to start changing things. The entire core is locked in, and new ownership is officially here. Now, it is time for the team to rise to the ranks of a tough Atlantic division and return to playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The 2o22 season showed great promise for the Ottawa Senators. Coming off of what was dubbed “The Summer of Pierre”, the team’s expectations were sky-high. They had acquired Alex DeBrincat in a trade at the draft and Claude Giroux signed in free agency. However, things took a turn for the worse early in the season. Joshua Norris injured his shoulder in October which derailed his entire season, and the Senators immediately followed that up by losing seven games in a row.
While the Sens did make a push later in the season, it wasn’t enough to overcome the poor play at times in the year. They finished six points out of a playoff spot, which was still a vast improvement over years prior. The good news? The young core continued to develop. Tim Stutzle looks primed to become one of the NHL’s elites and Jake Sanderson looked very comfortable in his first season. Brady Tkachuk continued to be his normal effective self and the team is now hoping a full year of Jakob Chychrun will upgrade the defence.
This offseason was a busy one for Ottawa. They moved away from the previously mentioned DeBrincat who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for a package centred around Dominik Kubalik. To help ease the loss, they signed Vladimir Tarasenko to a one-year contract. And in net, they brought in Joonas Korpisalo on a five-year, $20 million deal.
However, the biggest news came off of the ice as the Senators are now under new ownership. As of this week, Michael Andleaur officially became the majority owner of the team. With this, he has already started to upgrade and add to a front office. Cyril Leeder is back with the team and Sean Tierney has been hired to bolster their analytics department. It has also been stated that Daniel Alfredsson will be a part of the team in some capacity. This wave of influx to the staff may prove critical for the long-term success of this team.
Brady Tkachuk – Tim Stutzle – Vladimir Tarasenko
Dominik Kubalik – Josh Norris – Claude Giroux
These lineup projections are just an idea of what Ottawa could do. In reality, someone like Batherson will likely slide up the lineup as needed and they may move someone like Kubalik down. However, this setup is designed to give the 2023-23 Ottawa Senators depth up and down the lineup. Which was something they were critically lacking last year.
The top six should be as steady as ever. Tkachuk, Stutzle, and Giroux are all fan favourites and for good reason. They will be looking to repeat on great years last season. Norris and Tarasenko are the two X-factors for this top-six group. Norris was hurt with a shoulder injury for almost the entirety of last season. He already started this preseason in a non-contact jersey, even if it was just precautionary. His health is going to be essential to the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators. Pinto is a great player, but they need that punch of Stutzle and Norris up the middle to be effective.
Tarasenko will be a crucial part of this team because he will be the key person to replace what they lost by moving out DeBrincat. While DeBrincat didn’t have an amazing season, he still was just shy of 30 goals last year. Tarasenko has also dealt with a long list of injuries lately, so the Senators will have to hope a good offseason makes things right. If they can stay healthy, this unit should be very solid.
The bottom six of the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators look like it could be much improved vs. last year. The fact that Batherson could be on the third line alone makes this team a much more deep unit. However, even if you move Batherson into the top six and someone like Kubalik down, this is still a solid unit. Pinto doesn’t have a contract just yet, but it doesn’t seem like this should be something that carries too far into the season. Greig looked great in his time last season and has a really good chance to make an impact this year. Pinto was thrown into a second-line role last year where he looked a little out of place, but as a third-liner, he should do just fine.
Joseph saw time all over the lineup last year and admittedly had a disappointing season. In a much smaller role, he can carve out an effective niche for himself as Kastelic and MacKewen will no doubt be physical forecheckers. This will allow someone like Joseph to capitalize on loose pucks created, hopefully giving the team some much-needed offence from that fourth line. Granted, Joseph has been a name thrown around that could be traded away to make room for Pinto’s contract. If that is the case, expect one of Kelly or Sokolov to slide in.
Sokolov and Kelly will no doubt find their way into the lineup at times this year. Sokolov just signed a two-way contract so it will be interesting to see if he cracks the team out of camp. MacKewen may also not play every game, and be a guy who slides in for the more physical matchups.
Thomas Chabot – Jakob Chychrun
Jake Sanderson – Artem Zub
The top four for this Senators team promises to be the strongest group they have iced in years. They do have an influx of left-handed defencemen, so it will be interesting to see how they use them. Chychrun has played the right side at times before, so he may move over to start. In pre-season, they are actually trying Chabot on the right side. The way things are currently set up, there is a good chance that Sanderson and Zub become the “shut down” pair that takes the hard matchups. This would allow Chabot and Chychrun to roam freely in an offensive role.
Another option would be to swap Zub and Chycrun, allowing for one offensive and one defensive partner on both pairings. Either way, the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators top four should be solid.
The bottom two roster spots will be the most interesting for this team. They re-signed Brannstrom this offseason, to the delight of a lot of Sens fans. However, with Pinto still to sign, they may need to move money out. Would Brannstrom be an option? If they do keep Brannstrom, expect the trend of puck-mover with a “stay-at-home” player to continue. Brannstrom and Hamonic will likely patrol the bottom pair, with Bernard-Docker sliding in here and there.
The wild card is Kleven. He looked great in a very small sample at the end of last season. If Brannstrom is on the team, he will almost certainly start in the AHL. However, if there are injuries that occur, Kleven should be on the shortlist of players to get a callup. And if Brannstrom is moved, Kleven would be at the very top of the list for names to be called upon.
The goaltending needs to be something that improves this season. Last year, the Sens saw sub-.900 goaltending for almost the entire season. Forsberg unfortunately hurt both knees just as he was starting to find his form again. However, to help solidify the tandem, they have brought in Korpisalo.
These two should make a reliable duo. Korpisalo had a very strong year last year, but is not a typical number one goalie. Instead. it will likely be a 1-A and 1-B situation, with both guys fighting for time. However, if the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators can just get average goaltending, they should be alright. Look for this to be a big spot of improvement vs last season.
Players to Watch
The reason Chabot is the first player on this list is that he had a bit of a down year for his standards last year. At times, he drew criticism from the fanbase for his play. While he still showed his dynamic skating and offensive abilities, there were often times when he would turn a puck over or lose coverage in his own end. For the first time since he was a rookie, the Ottawa Senators have given him some help on the blueline. No longer should Chabot need to play 26+ minutes a night. Instead, Sanderson, Chychrun, and Zub can all take some time and Chabot may benefit more from playing 21-23 minutes.
The other reason he is on here is if the team does intent to start him on the right side, his play will be crucial to their success. If Chaboit can become a top defenceman on his off-side, the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators will be very excited with the prospects of their defence core.
The other name to watch this year is the newly acquired goalie, Korpisalo. As already mentioned, goaltending was a very sore spot for the Senators last year. Korpisalo had a career year and Ottawa now needs him to play like that again to give themselves a great chance at playoffs.
Korpisalo does not need to be in the Vezina conversation. However, they do need him to be an average starter who can play around 50 games for the team. The reason this will be key to watch is that Korpisalo has never even started 40 NHL games in a regular season before. So asking him to jump closer to 50 will be quite the increase in his workload.
2023-24 Ottawa Senators Prediction
This team absolutely has to be competing for a playoff spot this year. Everyone has now been paid and the core is locked in to stay. They are no longer the “young and exciting” team that is just trying to learn the ropes. Now, all of their key players have had multiple years of NHL experience, and that needs to start showing.
The added depth along with the solid roster in the top-six should mean Ottawa is an exciting offensive team again this year. However, the real improvement needs to come in their own end. Another year for Sanderson to grow and a full year of Chychrun should help this team a lot. If the goaltending holds up, there is no reason this team shouldn’t be right in the fight for a playoff spot. Expect them to be right in the hunt for one of the wild card spots this year.