Senators road to success needs a few pot-hole repairs
Loved the old Nick Lowe song Cruel to be Kind and it applies when evaluating the Ottawa Senators of 2022-23. If you want the unbiased approach when looking at the season-about-to-pass, it simply would be cruel to be overly kind.
Was the season an overwhelming success? Not by a long shot.
In fact, after the vaunted Summer-of-Pierre the feeling from around these parts was anything short of a playoff spot would be disappointing. And so when the season was shelved last week, it was unsatisfying.
The run after Christmas was gratifying and exemplary and got this team close. The challenge will maintaining that play starting next October . . . and that means starting next October. Not in January or February, but in October.
Slow starts are killers.
The Senators – with new ownership and a new attitude in mind – can’t afford an early gut punch.
Frankly, I can’t see anything resembling that. The growth in folks like Tim Stutzle and Brady Tkachuk and especially Jake Sanderson is likely to continue. Meantime, Josh Norris is a major, major piece here and the shoulder woes need to be solved permanently, ditto for Jake Chychrun who’s getting a somewhat deserved reputation for fragility.
This team will score and score plenty, no one’s going to dispute the talent on the top six up front. The power play was excellent as well, likely to finish seventh or eighth league wide this year. That could improve with a full season of Chychrun, Sanderson and a healthy Norris.
Also positive growth was – and will be – seen on the blueline. This was an absolute disaster area for too many seasons. The days of Josh Brown, Victor Mete, Michael Del Zotto and (gulp) Nikita Zaitzev are a welcoming and dissolving memory for Ottawa Fan.
Chychrun, Sanderson, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom, Artem Zub, Travis Hamonic (if he’s back) and perhaps Jacob Bernard-Docker is good enough.
How about revamping the bottom six forward grouping. Parker Kelly, Patrick Brown, Dylan Gambrell, Julien Gauthier, Austin Watson and Mathieu Joseph don’t exactly generate chills up-and-down the spine. Just the opposite. This a very weak area. Mark Kastelic is a keeper, me-thinks.
Goaltending has been a question mark since Craig Anderson left three years ago.
And that remains.
Can Anton Forsberg return from an absolutely devastating injury to both knees? (I heard somewhere that knees are just a bit important for goaltenders).
Does the team go and re-sign Cam Talbot? If so, why? His 35-year-old body is getting cranky.
That leaves the kids. Honestly, Mads Sogaard is not ready for prime time and needs development. Same goes for Kevin Mandolese and Leevi Merilainen. This will need to be addressed through free agency or trade.
Need to be better as an organization and make more of a financial investment here. That means gutting the current crew and bringing in some established, systems-based, heady vets. Money shouldn’t be an issue with the new ownership group . . . free movie tickets too if the dream buyer comes to fruition.
The last matter at hand is management.
You’ll get some pretty heated debate, both ways, when bringing up the name Pierre (Summer-of guy) Dorion. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground with Dorion, you’re either on board or swimming quickly away. I’m kind of in-between but hedge on the side of making wholesale changes right across the board. That means a new boss behind the bench and a new boss upstairs.
If the players on the ice are expected, and rightfully so, to make a significant jump, they’ll need stronger minds running the business end of things.
Play time is indeed over here. Time to slap on those big-boy pants Ottawa.
Who isn’t jacked to see the NHL post-season kick off next week?
(Well, Ottawa for one, chortle-chortle).
But seriously folks.
The first round in itself is a king-sized bed of intrigue and potential high drama.
In the East: Toronto-Tampa, one more time. Can Boston blow away the eighth seed as the Bruins are supposed to do, or is there drama ahead? Is it time for Carolina to rise out of the weeds? Did the Rangers over-extend at the deadline? Is New Jersey ready for war?
In the West: Can the goaltending hold in Edmonton, or is every game gonna be 8-7? Are the defending champs okay even without Gabe Landeskog? Is Minnesota a viable dark horse? Will Mark Stone (recall him?) be the difference in Vegas?
Having plopped that all down on the page, it’s time for the most irrelevant, self-aggrandizing part of the column – the good, old Stanley Cup prediction.
And so . . .
Even without Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Semenko and Lowe, we’re going Edmonton for one, and only one reason: Derek Ryan!!
(Just making sure you haven’t nodded off yet).
That’d be, first name Connor, second name McJesus.
Hallelujah, pass the clicker.