2015-2016 was a bad year for Canada’s NHL teams, as each one missed the post-season. The Ottawa Senators were the best of the bunch, with a 38-35-9 record – good for 85 points. Ottawa scored 236 goals and allowed 247 goals against, accounting for a differential of minus-11. They finished three points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and eight points behind the Boston Bruins.
Head coach Dave Cameron was fired in April, with Guy Boucher named as the new bench boss in May. And Pierre Dorion was brought in as the replacement for general manager Bryan Murray, who stepped down from his post in April. Dorion had served as an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens for 11 years before joining Ottawa as a chief amateur scout in 2007. By 2009, he was the director of player personnel. By 2014, he became an assistant general manager alongside Randy Lee.
Tepid historical context, Dorion and Cameron have their work cut out for them. Among the off-season moves, the trading of Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers in exchange for centre Derick Brassard is arguably the most notable. Ottawa also saw the retirement of defenceman Chris Phillips and the departure of Mark Fraser, Jerome Leduc and Patrick Wiercioch via free agency.
Winger Mike Hoffman led the charge for the Senators in terms of goal-scoring. He had 59 points in 78 games, including 29 goals. Nine of his goals came on the power play and the 26-year-old averaged 17:32 of ice time a game. He managed 242 shots on goal and remains a speedy option up front. Ottawa rewarded him with a four-year contract, thereby avoiding arbitration.
Brassard theoretically slips into the top of the depth chart down the middle. The 28-year-old from Hull had 58 points in 80 games last season and added four points in five playoff games for the Rangers. He averaged 17:53 of ice time a game in the regular season. Brassard is steadfast at both ends of the ice and could become a leader in the Senators’ locker room.
Winnipeg’s Mark Stone had a respectable year, with 61 points in 75 games. He’s an intelligent player and piled up an average of 20:06 of ice time a game. He scored five goals on the power play and added a short-handed marker. He fired 151 shots on goal and boasts great hands, which puts him in line for some serious points.
Bobby Ryan continues to be an effective offensive threat. He had 56 points last season, including 22 goals. Six of his goals came on the power play and he averaged 17:10 of ice time a game. He is a versatile winger and likes to show off his one-on-one moves, but his play without the puck leaves a lot to be desired. Centre Kyle Turris is also worth a look. He had 30 points in 57 games last season, including three power play goals. He’s an instinctive player and should be set for a very solid year in 2016-2017.
Erik Karlsson is the best player on the team. The 26-year-old Swedish blueliner was a point-a-game last season, with 16 goals and 66 assists to go with an average of nearly 29 minutes of ice time per contest. He had 248 shots on goal and is one of the finest skaters in the game. Some have knocked him for lacking the size and strength of a truly tough defender, but Karlsson strengths have made him one of the most formidable threats on the ice at any given moment.
Dion Phaneuf is the veteran presence. The 31-year-old from Edmonton has almost a dozen years of NHL experience and was hung out to dry in Toronto, but he looks ready to bounce back in Ottawa. He had 32 points in 71 games last season, including four goals, and averaged 22:20 of ice time a season. Phaneuf can open things up with a big hit or huge point shot, but his defensive coverage is inconsistent.
Cody Ceci had 26 points in 75 games, including 10 goals. He averaged 19:18 a game and boasts great size for the NHL game at 6’3, 205 pounds. The 22-year-old can move the puck and likes to play an up-tempo game, plus he possesses a heavy point shot. 31-year-old Marc Methot is another homegrown option. He had a dozen points in 69 games and averaged 20:39 of ice time a game. He can play a defensively sound game.
Craig Anderson went 31-23-5, with a 2.48 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He posted four shutouts. The 35-year-old is a top-tier veteran goaltender in today’s NHL and that gives the Senators an edge, as he’s an intelligent player with a gift for reading the play. He also doesn’t quit, even when he’s down, and that can help rally the Senators when they need it most.
Andrew Hammond may have achieved legendary status for his heroics with a 20-1-2 start to his NHL career, good enough to beat Ken Dryden’s numbers, but things have cooled off since then. The 28-year-old went 7-11-4 last season, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. He’s cemented as the backup at this point and he’ll try to prove his glorious start wasn’t just a fluke.
Winger Nick Paul could be ready for a significant breakout. The 21-year-old saw action in 24 games last season and put together five points, with 28 shots on goal. The Mississauga native is a hard worker and can slip into any forward role, plus he has a physical edge that comes in handy. Consistency seems to be an issue for now, but Paul should be fine given a chance to grow into his game.
Goalie Matt O’Connor is another prospect worth watching. He played one game last season and allowed three goals. The 24-year-old has a proven knack for playing in important games and is noted for his calm demeanour. He’s 6’5, which means he covers a lot of the net. He does have some focus issues and he could stand to put a few more pounds on his frame, but there’s a lot of upside as well.
The Path Ahead
While the changes at the top will account for some progression eventually, the on-ice projections haven’t changed. The Senators made minor adjustments up front, but their defensive core is the same and the team’s success will come down to Karlsson’s ability to propel the play. Adjustments in goaltending could make a difference down the line, but that’s just one item on a fairly extensive to-do list.