• By: Dave Gross

Ottawa Senators: Rebuild Part II?

I think the Senators are going to be a really, really busy team in the off-season.”

Hockey’s pre-eminent insider Elliotte Friedman (Sportsnet, HNIC) had those words earlier this week and they are all of being the following: Predictable, believable, somewhat alluring to Ottawa fans and somewhat frightening to Ottawa fans.

The thought – essentially – sums up what a lot of people (who still call the Senators their team) are thinking and now can appreciate. Fact is, that marvellously inaccurate statement from just a few years ago from the former general manager’s mouth that the team’s/organization’s rebuild is over, was just that – inaccurate. In fact, far from it.

For some inexplicable reason, this club with zero playoff games in (coming up on) seven straight seasons was declarative and – after quick reflection – bizarrely mistaken that the revamping of the on-ice product was done.

Job over.

Bring on the hardware.

Pretty complacent given where the Senators stand today.

But that is over. Obviously.

The housecleaning from the management perspective is a done deal.

The old regime has been swept out; Michael Andlauer is the owner now, Steve Staios is the GM.

This sad puppy is theirs, lock, stock and two smoking barrels.

That’s why this corner can appreciate the cautious, hesitant approach Ottawa took to last week’s free-for-all NHL trade deadline which saw Vegas, Carolina and others load up, swap draft picks willy-nilly and throw caution to the wind.

In Ottawa, the wind wouldn’t have tickled your nose.

And that’s because this isn’t a situation that gets resolved swiftly through one trade deadline. This is a situation that’s going to need time and thought.

And time is one thing Ottawa has in its hands. Plenty of it. This year’s rendition isn’t going anywhere fast and has 20 games left to do just that.

What these upcoming 20 games will allow is evaluation. Something’s just not clicking – in any way, shape or form – with the collected bodies on the ice. But this also has been said before and it rings true over here: there is talent on the Senators team. Ask any of the other clubs that face (or faced) Ottawa this season and the first words are generally ‘there’s a lot of talent on that team.’ Asked further why they aren’t more successful and the response from the opposition is (generally speaking, again) a shrug of the shoulders.

So then, for the next 20 games, Staios and his crew of evaluators (Jacques Martin, Daniel Alfredsson, Ryan Bowness, Dave Poulin, Justin Peters, etc.) get to play chief coroner.

A deep dissection is required, mandatory.

Fans are torn on a few of the issues surrounding such impending and expected surgery. Up front is the youngish core; a core that’s not where it needs to be at this stage of ‘development.’ Altering the core would be courageous and frankly frightens a good chunk of the collective who buy seats to the Canadian Tire Centre and tend to believe with religious fervor this ship will eventually right itself. Does Staios (with input, no doubt from a visibly and, at times, verbally frustrated Andlauer) make a “God Forbid!!” move like trading away a Drake Batherson or a Thomas Chabot or a Jakob Chychrun?

Does Staios buy out one of the previous regime’s biggest faux pas in Joonas Korpisalo?

Are all of Brady Tkachuk, Jake Sanderson and Tim Stutzle absolutely, irrevocably untouchable?

Do you swing hard – again – Ottawa at the free agency market and cross your fingers?

Or do you sit tight, tinker around the edges, maybe pick up some additional draft capital, hire the right(?) coach and pray to your higher power that the new guy with the suit and tie behind the bench can move mountains?

I can tell you one thing to be sure – when Andlauer and Staios checked in last year with toothy smiles and an adoring public expectantly waiting for the 2023-24 season to mark a return to the post-season, they didn’t expect this.

There’s no quick fix (we think) to this Ottawa situation. This is going to take some time . . . and more importantly, a test of hockey thought and sense.

Is this newish regime going to be much better than the previous during make-or-break off-seasons?

We’ll find out – or at least we’ll get a good feeling for where this is headed – in the late spring and summer months.


The last few years it’s always been work ethic . . . The way you play is different each year because of the different group each year.”

In a wide-ranging meet-up with the media this week, Ottawa captain Brady Tkachuk was asked if his current team possessed an identity.

It’s a dandy question. Think about it – when you tug on a Philadelphia Flyer or Montreal Canadiens or Boston Bruin sweater there’s an identity that goes with the action. Be it team grit, team panache or a team identity that centres on all-for-one, one-for-all, the above-three organizations have it in spades.

Back in the moderately successful late-1990s and early-2000s when names like Alfredsson, Hossa, Havlat and Redden dotted the roster, the Senator persona blended high skill and team defensive play. And during the time when the team enjoyed its last successful run (2016-17), the team concept was essentially ‘give the puck to Karlsson.’

(All of this begs the question: Does the identity of a team only develop and get established in fruitful, prosperous times or does the identity pre-date the success?)

You could (and can, to some degree) argue that Ottawa’s current and going-forward identity centres on the team’s youthful, sprightly core planted, watered and raised under Pierre Dorion. But given this year’s foibles does that mean the organization does a complete reboot and start from scratch in developing a completely new personality?

Again, stay tuned for an interesting summer.



Tuesday, March 12: Pittsburgh at Ottawa (7 pm)

Thursday, March 14: Ottawa at Columbus (7 pm)

Saturday, March 16: Ottawa at NY Islanders (12:30 pm)

Sunday, March17: Carolina at Ottawa (6 pm)

Tuesday, March 19: Ottawa at Boston (7 pm)



Photo: Courtesy TSN