• By: Dave Gross

Senators vying for better grades in second half

Give or take a few days or games or COVID breaks, the National Hockey League hits the halfway point during a very intriguing season.

In Ottawa, this season was hailed as the end of the rebuild. While the phrase wasn’t exactly plastered on the facing of the Canadian Tire Centre, it was on the tip of the tongue of most fans. When the general manager says the rebuild is over, I’m guessing the rebuild is over (until, of course, there’s another rebuild . . . but let’s save that story for a few years, eh?).

Through COVID protocols and COVID breakouts and injuries, Ottawa has been hard hit. Right up there with the NY Islanders and Vancouver as far as ‘bodies lost.’

With that in mind, let’s have a look at the halfway grades.


Anton Forsberg, B: Nothing remarkable or undeniably bad about Forsberg’s game. He’s had some sparkling efforts and some dull ones. Saturday’s effort falls into the latter class.

Filip Gustavsson, C: After looking like the ‘Next One’ last year, Gustavsson’s game hasn’t been great. Still, he is the future No. 1 . . . somewhere down the road.

Matt Murray, B: Another poor start led to waiver-wire exposure in late November, but the former Cup winner has played quite well since Christmas. The Senators are tied to this enormous contract and expect excellence, not inconsistency.


Erik Brannstrom, B: Injuries have foreclosed on a promising career time and time again. Playing with added confidence lately . . . when healthy.

Josh Brown, D: Would be hard-pressed to find another NHL team that would slot Brown in their lineup. Should play consistently tougher to have an impact of any sorts.

Thomas Chabot, A: You could make a case for an A+ here, Chabot has been that dominant. His offensive game was never in question, but last season’s effort was dominated by defensive-zone miscues and miscalculations. Chabot’s better defensively now. A real talent.

Nick Holden, B: A steady veteran presence which you don’t see much of on the Ottawa blueline. Like, he’s it.

Victor Mete, C-: Has not picked up where he left off last year. Mete’s find it a struggle to even make the starting roster.

Lassi Thomson, B: Smallish sample size (only 15 games). Looks fairly promising. Great outlet passer. Besides, how can you not appreciate a guy named ‘Lassi?’ Woof.

Nikita Zaitsev, C-: Lack of hockey sense has not improved.

Artem Zub, A: Steady as she goes. Nothing flashy to see here just a sound, intelligent blueliner, game after game.


Drake Batherson, A: Looking like a draft and contractual steal. An all-around solid talent.

Connor Brown, B+: Every team needs a Connor Brown. There’s only one Connor Brown.

Tyler Ennis, A-: Smart and savvy but under-sized. Ennis brings it every night as best he can.

Alex Formenton, B+: Has made the jump from being simply a great skater to being a complete player.

Dylan Gambrell, C-: Invisibility is his superpower.

Adam Gaudette, C-: Likely headed to the taxi squad once the team gets healthy.

Josh Norris, A: Smooth and crafty. A nice anchor on Ottawa’s top line for now.

Nick Paul, B: Ottawa’s Swiss army knife. Possibly traded at the deadline.

Zach Sanford, C: A large frame that is largely unnoticeable on a lot of nights. Could be a physical force. Trade bait.

Tim Stutzle, B-: Numbers aren’t bad for a 20 year old. Likely being targeted as the Senators’ No. 1 centre. Needs to curtail the eye-rolling and head-shaking at the league’s refs, which leads to a bad reputation. You don’t need that at 20.

Brady Tkachuk, B: Slow start, superb middle, languishing a bit lately. No worries here.

Austin Watson, B-: A decent defensive forward and shot-blocker. As an enforcer, not so decent.

MANAGEMENT, C+: Let’s start at the top and GM Pierre Dorion.

While wondrous at the draft table, Dorion leaves us constantly wondering what the heck he’s doing at the trade/free-agent-signing level. His stubbornness at bringing in washed up/low quality veterans to supplement the youth has been a failure.

Kudos for signing Drake Batherson to a very team-friendly deal. The book will be out, though, on that monster Brady Tkachuk contract for some time. The other member of that top unit, Josh Norris, is up next, contractually.

Coach D.J. Smith seems to have a system in place but what it is, no one seems sure on many nights. The defensive zone is still a Three Stooges skit at times leaving the goalies in the lurch.

Special teams, circle that No. 1 power-play unit, have improved.


Monday, Jan. 31: Edmonton at Ottawa (7:30 pm)

Tuesday, Feb. 1: Ottawa at NY Islanders (7:30 pm)

NHL All-Star break (Feb. 2-6)

Photo: Courtesy OttawaSenators.com