The Ottawa Senators are 20 games away from finishing this shortened 2020-21 season

The Senators score during the third period in their 3-1 victory over the Flames, March 24. (PHOTO: NHL.COM/SENATORS)

The Sens sit eleven points out of the final playoff spot in the North Division currently held by the Montreal Canadiens. It may sound like less than you’d expect given how poorly the team has fared, but the Canadiens also have four games in hand.

We’ve seen Ottawa pull off miracles before. This year when they came back from down 5-1 late in the second period to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs – the odds of winning that game stooped as low as 0.01 per cent, according to Evolving-Hockey.

We also saw a miracle from the 2014-15 version of the team – containing a young Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson at his peak, and of course, the Hamburglar.

The Senators were basement dwellers in the Eastern Conference and heading towards a second consecutive season outside the playoffs before Andrew Hammond came in.

Hammond was an undrafted 27-year-old rookie goaltender with a college career and a handful of American Hockey League games under his belt. His first NHL appearance came on Feb. 16, 2015 as he filled in for Robin Lehner, who injured himself in the second period – Craig Anderson was already out with an injury.

The rest is history. With Lehner and Anderson out, Hammond went on a run for the ages, leading the basement-dwelling Senators – who were nine points out of the final playoff spot – to the playoffs behind his .941 save percentage, 1.79 goals-against-average, and 20 wins in 24 appearances.

In the last couple weeks, Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson’s performances were reminiscent of that run.

With starter Matt Murray and backup Marcus Hogberg both injured, Daccord unexpectedly stepped in for his NHL start earlier this month and led the Senators to victory over the Leafs.

A few days later, Daccord suffered a season-ending injury, and it was Gustavsson’s turn to take over. Last week, he backstopped the Senators to consecutive wins against the Calgary Flames on Monday and Wednesday, allowing two goals on 65 shots.

Anton Forsberg started Thursday’s overtime loss to the Leafs that led to this viral clip of Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion after Thomas Chabot’s giveaway led to Toronto’s game-winning goal:

I’m not sure if Dorion thought repeating Ottawa’s miracle run in 2015 was realistic (there’s no way he could think that, honestly), but the truth is, it’s not.

According to Dom Luszczyszyn’s playoff projections on The Athletic, Ottawa has a zero per cent chance of making the playoffs.

As they have been all season, the team is looking ahead, and a few developments related to the future are on the horizon.

The North Dakota Senators

Last week I covered the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks – a college hockey team that four Sens prospects play for, or should I say used to play for?

The Fighting Hawks lost in quintuple overtime (yes, you read that correctly) to Minnesota-Duluth in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Tournament, meaning their season is over.

It’s sooner than expected, but the good news for Sens fans is they might see some new faces.

Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto are in negotiations with the Senators right now and should be signing their pro contracts any day now. That should mean we’ll see them play for the Belleville Senators this season at the very least, but don’t be shocked if you see them in the NHL.

Jake Sanderson, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will reportedly be offered a chance to sign a pro contract as well, and he’ll have a big decision to make. Is he ready for the pro-level? Many seem to think he is.

These players are a significant part of Ottawa’s deep pool of talent. The Senators have struggled in the last three seasons, the word “rebuild” has surfaced an infinite number of times in relation to this team – this is the result.

I said it last week and I’ll say it again, there are already so many young players playing on the team right now, and so many more are to come. Once these young talents develop in a few years, the Senators should be in a great position (if managed properly).

NHL Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is coming up on Monday, April 12. Initially, the expectation was that many of the trades would play out far ahead of that, at least for Canadian teams acquiring players, because of the government-mandated 14-day quarantine for players crossing the border.

That’s since changed to seven days, which eases things for contending Canadian teams, but this year is unlike any other. Teams are less willing to spend more money to acquire players because of the pandemic, and therefore, the number of trades this deadline should be less than usual.

The Senators did make a trade, though. Christian Wolanin, a 26-year-old defenceman who spent several years in Belleville and played 58 games in Ottawa over four seasons, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for 24-year-old centre Mike Amadio.

The is a case where Wolanin is becoming too old to be seen as a “prospect” and has yet to find his footing in the NHL. With Chabot already there and guys like Brannstrom and Sanderson coming up the pipeline, a left-shot defenceman like Wolanin isn’t as valuable.

The Senators decided to trade his value for some depth a centre. Amadio has 168 NHL games to his name, but only 39 points. Much like Wolanin, he’s proven in the AHL and not the NHL, but he should become a serviceable player who can at least play on the fourth line for years to come.

Sens players who could be traded

Mike Reilly, Ryan Dzingel, Braydon Coburn, Erik Gudbranson, and Artem Anisimov are all unrestricted free agents this off-season.

As mentioned, the market will likely be slower this year, and therefore the only players that teams may covet are Reilly and Dzingel. They’ve both had half-decent seasons on this struggling Senators team and could be traded to bring in mid-tier prospects or draft picks. Watch for their names to be out there between now and April 12th.

For what it’s worth, it’s plausible that both players could stay in Ottawa at a fair price, and I think each of them would be solid short-term players for this team while the younger players develop.

Upcoming schedule:

Thursday, April 1st vs. Montreal

Saturday, April 3rd at Montreal

It’s a slow week that feels even slow since Ottawa hasn’t played since last Thursday. Coming up are two games against the Canadiens – the Sens will look to build on 3-2 season-series lead much like they did against the Flames last week.