What Went Wrong: Ottawa Senators

In 2018-2019, the Ottawa Senators finished dead last in the NHL. When processing what went wrong with the year, it’s almost a futile effort because just about everything went wrong.

The Senators closed 2018-2019 with a 29-47-9 record, good for just 64 points. That put them eight points behind the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference and seven behind the Los Angeles Kings.

Ottawa scored 242 goals in 2018-2019, 20 more than the Devils and 40 more than the Kings. That’s something, right?

The Senators had four players with 20 or more goals, including Ryan Dzingel, Brady Tkachuk, Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone.

Out of those four players, exactly one was still a Senator upon season’s end. Dzingel and Duchene were traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets as that squad packaged up what they could for a Cup run, while Stone was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline.

Tkachuk managed 22 goals and 23 points in his debut season, representing a rare bright spot on an otherwise troubled team. He posted four power play goals, three game-winners and 214 shots on goal.

But even if Tkachuk and some of the other young players could fuel the attack somewhat, the Senators were just too permeable in their own end to get the wins.

Not only did the September 2018 exodus of Erik Karlsson leave its mark on the defensive core, at least six different goalies had starts for Ottawa. Craig Anderson led the way with 47 starts, but he only collected 17 wins and posted a 3.51 goals against average. That’s well below his career average and more reminiscent of his unsteady start in Chicago in the mid-2000s than any modern form.

Anderson wasn’t alone in playing poorly, of course, and the Senators as a whole did not make it easy for their netminders. Their Corsi For percentage was a 45, which elucidates just how little Ottawa controlled the puck. Their scoring chance percentage is offset at 45.8, which means the balance of scoring chances went to their opponents.

With the team essentially non-responsive and beleaguered by a series of off-ice issues, head coach Guy Boucher was fired in March and Marc Crawford was promoted to the post of interim coach. There were problems galore, from the eminent Uber tape that featured a host of players mocking their team to serious allegations levelled at assistant general manager Randy Lee.

For the Senators, 2018-2019 was a matter of not getting it done. The goals were coming to a certain degree, but the team’s repetitive defensive collapses led to scoring chances and a league-worst 302 goals against.

The Senators have a new coach for 2019-2020 in D.J. Smith, but looking at what he has to work with isn’t overly encouraging.

Ottawa has $20.6 million in cap space and Bobby Ryan is their biggest contract at $7.25 million a year. He’s inked for the next three seasons. Mikkel Boedker and Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be UFAs next summer, while Chris Tierney, Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair, and Tkachuk are among the forwards slated for RFA status next year.

The Senators made some curious moves in the off-season, but that’s really the name of the game now. Cody Ceci was traded to the Maple Leafs and 38-year-old Ron Hainsey was snagged to help a defensive group now headlined by Nikita Zaitsev.

Will 2019-2020 be any kinder to the Senators? It doesn’t look that way. While some of the off-ice issues have been sorted, there may be more to come. The contentious relationship between Eugene Melnyk and Ottawa doesn’t seem to be dissipating and the team’s sheer lack of firepower and talent won’t help things on the ice.

Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick

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