Senators will have company in playoff chase
If the playoffs do eventually come knocking, who steps out of the Ottawa Senator’s way?
Realistically the organization would need to take a significant jump in order to rally and compete for a spot as early as next season. Could it happen? Sure, but unless Senators management can figure out a way to trade or sign for a top-six forward as well as a top-four defenceman, it’s a stretch. The most likely scenario is seeing another year of improvement from the young bucks up front – Stutzle, Tkachuk, Batherson and Norris in particular.
The blueline, as everyone is aware, needs help. Jake Sanderson is coming and that’s a plus but let’s remember it’s a long and tricky transition from college hockey to the National Hockey League.
Down the road there is too much ‘good’ here to ignore, meaning Ottawa’s time will come.
Now we can examine the question fully.
The Eastern Conference today is rich with rottweilers. Tampa, Florida, Toronto, Carolina, the Rangers and maybe Boston and Pittsburgh sport plenty of bite. In the next 2-3 seasons don’t expect a lot of tumble from the top dogs, so let’s surmise the Bolts, Panthers, Leafs, Canes and Rangers are locked into playoff positions. (Anything can happen, but if the course stays true . . .).
The last two clubs, and you can certainly add in eighth-place Washington, are aging in key areas and are susceptible to falls.
Sidney Crosby, bless his soul, is 34, Geno Malkin turns 36 this summer and Kris Letang is days away from 35. You just don’t go out and replace players like that overnight.
Ditto for Boston as key cogs Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (37 and 34 at the start of the 2022-23 season) are getting up there.
And in Washington, Ovie might slow down some day (it happens to us all, I’ve been told), while T.J. Oshie (35), Nick Backstrom (34) and former Norris winner John Carlson (32) will soon experience the same.
I mean that’s just great for Ottawa Fan, right?
If the above threesome does indeed fall from playoff contention, it isn’t only Ottawa that’ll be looking for a ticket back to the dance. Fans of the once-fabled Detroit Red Wings are sailing in the same boat-of-hope as the Ottawa faithful. The Wings are improving and have one of the NHL’s sharper minds leading the rebuild in Steve Yzerman. Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond – two favourites of this columnist – join Tyler Bertuzzi, ultra-competitor Dylan Larkin and young netminder Alex Nedeljkovic on the improving Wings.
Meantime . . . the Buffalo Sabres?
Add the Sabres in as improving. Behemoth talents Alex Tuch and Tage Thompson (32 goals so far) up front and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on the back end have the team on the right track, but the biggest add might be defender Owen Power (another giant at 6-foot-6), the top selection from 2021.
While there appears to be a bit of room being made – soon – in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings, there’s no shortage of improving teams knocking at the same door the Senators are.
That’s hockey though, always in a cycle.
THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Yes I’d agree, Tim Stutzle has a reputation as a diver, but the Nick Suzuki hit was a genuine knee-knock (obviously) . . . The HNIC presentation on Saturday nights is noteworthy for its intermission product – once you get through another slog of Ron MacLean’s virtue-signalling, the panel of Kelly Hrudey, Jenn Botterill and Kevin Bieksa picks it up and brings topical debate and insight . . . The second intermission slot with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek is outstanding as well . . . Marek has truly improved . . . When Auston Matthews scores (which I heard happens a bit), doesn’t his immediate on-ice reaction mirror WWE’s Roman Reigns when the undisputed champ stands tall in the ring and says, “Acknowledge me!” . . . We acknowledge you, Auston. Seriously incredible talent . . . Speaking of wrestling, the biggest Twitter war presently isn’t between Yankees and Red Sox fans or Habs followers versus Leafs, it’s WWE against upstart AEW. Give me Tony Khan’s product all day, every day, over King Vince . . . Speaking of scoring, where in the world is Bill Muckalt? . . . That would be at Michigan as associate head coach since 2017, a-hah! . . . OK, I get it. I really get it: the Toronto Blue Jays are considered World Series contenders. That pregame ceremony for the opener though? Overkill. It felt longer than The Irishman . . . But the opening game itself? Worth the wait . . . Was that not just the best sports weekend on the calendar or what? The Masters, MLB opening up, NBA playoff seeds being settled and of course the NHL revving it up as the playoffs approach.
SENATORS WEEK AHEAD:
Tuesday, April 12: Ottawa at Detroit (7:30 pm)
Thursday, April 14: Ottawa at Boston (7 pm)
Saturday, April 16: Toronto at Ottawa (7 pm)
PHOTO: Courtesy ottawasenators.com