Our six pack season preview series rolls on.
The 2021 NHL season is set to kick off on January 13th after a short training camp. For this season, the Oilers will compete in an all-Canadian North Division. I’ve asked our sibling SB Nation websites to give us a preview about their upcoming season. Today, we take a dive into Ottawa with Nate, editor from Silver Seven.
The Senators are looking to make a climb up the standings in 2021. Can they hang around long enough to push for a playoff spot in the top four?
Let’s not waste any time and jump right in.
Copper and Blue: The Senators finished with 62 points in 71 games last season, failing to make the postseason. Have there been enough changes to the lineup to improve this season?
Nate: This will probably sound like a cop-out, but improvement for the Sens this year will likely be in the eye of the beholder. The roster, as it is currently constructed, will almost certainly not be able to contend for a play-off spot — frankly I’d be surprised if they don’t finish last in the division. That being said, another year of development for their staggeringly deep prospect pool, especially some NHL exposure for the kids knocking on the door, could mean meaningful improvement in the years to come. If the kids look good, that will be good enough.
Copper and Blue: 2020 third overall selection Tim Stützle signed his entry-level deal on December 27th. What are the odds he appears in Ottawa’s season opener this year?
Nate: If he’s healthy, he’ll be in the line-up. The Sens’ organization has been selling the fans on the idea of a youth movement for three years now, and Stützle is the crown jewel of these efforts. He’ll also be one of Ottawa best options for one of the twelve forward spots. He’ll play.
Copper and Blue: The Senators went all-in on Matt Murray this offseason when they signed him to a four year deal worth 6.25MM a year. After the Senators recently shipped backup Anders Nilsson to Tampa Bay, it’s clear that Ottawa plans to lean heavily on Murray. How do you see Murray’s season playing out?
Nate: Murray was something of a gamble given his injury woes and his recent poor run of form. That said, the team clearly believed they needed an upgrade in net and don’t yet trust any of their young goaltending prospects to lead an NHL squad. The Sens’ defense is going to be spotty this season, so I doubt Murray’s GAA will look good but if he stays healthy and shows flashes of his old self that might be good enough. I think he’ll be *fine* but unspectacular.
Copper and Blue: Tell us about a breakout player for Ottawa this upcoming season.
Nate: Like so much of their team, predicting who might have a breakout season is a bit of a gamble on which youngster hits at the start of the season and who catches the coach’s eye. But if Drake Batherson gets meaningful minutes on the second line and the power play (as he should) he could be good for 50 points and some dazzling highlights.
Copper and Blue: Sens head coach DJ Smith says that he’s going to try Erik Gudbranson alongside Thomas Chabot early on. Is Gudbranson a good candidate to play alongside Chabot? If not, who is?
Nate: Gudbrandson is *not* a good option in my opinion. The Sens tried this concept last year, pairing a defense- first grinder with Chabot, when they had Zaitsev playing big minutes; it was a disaster. I don’t think Gudbranson will be any better, but the truth is that the Sens don’t have a lot of great options on the right side. Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson are two recent high draft picks that play the right side but neither will likely see any time in Ottawa this season. Until one of those two are ready, the Sens are going to be thin at RHD but I guess I’d choose Josh Brown as probably the best option of a not-so-great bunch.
Copper and Blue: Where do the Senators finish in the North Division this year?
Nate: As I mentioned above, I don’t think the Sens are likely to finish anywhere but in the basement: the defense is too weak, Murray is too much of a question mark, and the best forwards are too young. That said, the Sens might also have the biggest variability of any team in the division because they could potentially roll out a line-up with 7-8 high grade prospects who have yet to play meaningful NHL minutes. If three or four of those players hit the ground running, I might need to revise my prediction in a hurry but for now I think another cellar-dwelling run of form is in order, followed by (hopefully) a quick ascent up the standings in the next couple of seasons.
Thanks to Nate for taking time out to answer our questions.