The Ottawa Senators have been a hot topic of discussion around the NHL lately. Lots of that has to do with Erik Karlsson and his upcoming contract extension. There are a lot of different ideas and possibilities of what the Senators should do next. These ideas may range depending on your opinion on the current team and future. The future strongly depends on where they finish this year. This is because of their 1st round pick that is lottery protected. With this in mind I am here to look at possibilities for what the Senators future may hold.
1. Stay The Course
This honestly is the most likely possibility for the Sens. However, I would argue it may not be the best. The Sens may just look to stay the course with this team, and hope this year was a fluke. If the Sens do this it would probably consist of re-signing Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Mike Hoffman to long term extensions. That may keep this team as a somewhat bubble team for playoffs for a little longer (something they have been for years). However, when looking to win a cup it may not be the smartest move. This team has some great pieces in Karlsson, Stone, and Hoffman to build around. Which makes it so frustrating how they have built this team.
Other than Thomas Chabot, behind Karlsson the D group is “Fine” at best, and the bottom 6 for Ottawa have been not great for years. You have 3 great pieces to build around and you give guys like Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan 7 mil. It makes it very hard to be a cup contender with this team. This group has shown this in extreme ways too. They have always been a bubble team. We have just gotten to see the 2 extremes of the team. Last year they went all the way to the ECF and almost the Cup Finals, and this year they look like a lottery team. If the Sens do stay the course they should at least get some help from the rookies coming up, but is it enough to make them a dominate team? Staying the course with this team may be the best thing for owner Eugene Melnyk and his short term mind. However, for huge success this may not be the best plan.
2. Revamp The Depth
So this to me seems like a better idea than just sticking with the same team and hoping it changes. A huge part of Ottawa’s struggles have been who they play in their bottom 6, and bottom pairs. Instead of playing guys like Colin White, Filip Chlapik, and Chris Wideman, the Sens love playing guys like Johnny Oduya, Mark Borowiecki, Nate Thompson, and Alexandre Burrows. This has been the case for many years (see last year where they had one of the worst 4th lines in hockey). If the Sens could manage a way to get rid of their bottom 6, and replace them with skilled bottom 6 players it could be huge. Who? White, Chlapik, or guys like Viktor Stalberg and Tommy Wingels from last year. This would at least help Ottawa’s core players and make them more competitive. The big problem with this is Ottawa has about 6 bottom 6/ and 3rd pairing guys already locked in for next season. This is going to be hard to move these guys as most of them just are not good, and on bad contracts. The Sens have really created a log jam which makes it hard for much improvement when it comes to depth.
3. Retool, But Not Rebuild
The 3rd option for Ottawa is similar to the 2nd. This is because it involves the Sens really changing some of the team. This however is in a bit of a different way. The 2nd option of revamp would be something that is done on the fly this year, and this coming offseason. A retool may take this and next year of not being good. If you just try not to improve the team much, swap a few players in and out, and get a couple higher picks it could work wonders. Now, there are a few problems with this method. First being that 1st round pick the Sens don’t have. They either have to bite the bullet and give it up this year. Or try and figure out a way to not completely suck next year while still retooling. This seems like a very hard thing to do without a 1st rounder.
Unless they just try and be as good as possible this season, and retool next season. The other problem with retooling is that you need to be very solid at picking up depth pieces in the draft. Now Ottawa has actually done a great job of that in the past. Guys like Stone, Hoffman, Frederik Claesson are all steals. The problem is that these guys are the minority of success stories late in the draft. For every good late prospect the Sens have they also have some that didn’t work out at all. To have an effective retool you need to pick out a couple impact players in rounds 2-7, which for any team is difficult.
Now this is probably the hardest one for Sens fans to hear. However, if the goal is to win a cup eventually (which it should be) this may be the most effective. There are for sure arguments that go both ways for this. However, when it comes down to it, this core is aging to the point where in a few years all of them will be out of their prime, and they are currently not in the greatest position to win a cup. You can argue that “get into the playoffs and anything can happen” and that’s fine. However, that seems like a very bold thing to bank on. With Craig Anderson turning 37 next year, and no real future goalie in net it is hard to imagine the Sens getting any more competitive than they currently are. Also, with the massive raises coming up, including Karlsson’s it is going to be hard to even keep the team they have now. The best option may be to just rebuild. The two problems with this is that you rebuild to GET a player like Erik Karlsson. So letting him go seems ill advised, and also they again do not have their first round pick. Rebuilding takes some luck when it comes to the lottery (Oilers, Leafs). It also takes some skill to add surrounding pieces and sometimes you just get unlucky (Coyotes, Sabres, and to be honest the Oilers again).
So this could be a painful way to go. However, look at teams like Pittsburgh, and Chicago who bottomed out, and became dynasty’s because of it. This is a hard sell. Especially for this city, but maybe selling off the pieces you have for huge assets is a good idea? The biggest problem with this for me is that you need great management. They need to be able to get big returns on players, draft very well, and develop them properly. While I don’t hate Pierre Dorion, I’m also not entirely convinced he has shown he’d be the right guy for a rebuild. His trading ability is, “meh”. His evaluation of talent (Ceci, Dahlen) also seems poor. If you don’t get some decent assets back for what you are selling it makes a rebuild much harder. You also need an owner who doesn’t get involved, and is willing to pay for a rebuild. That is NOT Eugene Melnyk. Overall, I think a rebuild would be the best bet for the Sens, but there are definitely reasons against it too. It would include trading away some of the guys who won’t be there when they are good again (Hoffman, Duchene, Ryan, Phaneuf… Maybe Karlsson), and bringing in young talent and developing them properly.
Overall, the Sens are in a really tough spot. In terms of winning a cup I can’t say any of these 4 options are effective. A big reason for that is they don’t have their 1st round pick. However, the core (and team) is really just stuck in the middle. Not being garbage, but also not being amazing either. It will be interesting to see how the Sens handle their situation moving forward.