Off-season review: Contract drama highlights Ottawa Senators offseason

It’s been an odd race for the Ottawa Senators over the past few years (as it always seems to be with Eugene Melnyk at the helm of the ship), but things are starting to improve.

After securing a victory before reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Senators collapsed and ultimately chose to leave their entire roster. Big names like Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone were knocked out, the team fueled for a few years, and the payoff was a strong young core who may soon be ready to go.

Are we going to see this young Senators team step up and compete for a playoff berth in 2021-22?

What happened in 2021?

The Senators were the All-Canadian division’s punching bag for much of 2021.

They won their first game of the season, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 5-3, but then started a nine-game losing streak. In the first month of play, Ottawa had an absolutely putrid 3-12-1 record and fans of the Canadian teams wondered if it was time for them to be relegated.

But, on February 15, things changed. The Sens pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Leafs, coming back 5-1 late in the second period to win 6-5 in overtime.

From that win, Ottawa went 20-16-4 all the way to the end and became a formidable opponent. They finished 23-28-5, finishing above the Vancouver Canucks and just four points behind the Calgary Flames, a pair of teams with playoff aspirations early in the season.

If there had been more trail, the Senators could reasonably have challenged the Habs for last playoff spot in Canada.

What were they doing out of season?

Notable additions: Zach Sanford, Nick Holden, Michael Del Zotto, Pontus Aberg, Scott Sabourin.

Notable subtractions: Logan Brown, Evgenii Dadonov, Ryan Dzingel, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Joey Daccord, Marcus Hogberg.

Understandably, since this is the Sens, their positive end to the season led to an offseason that featured some drama, despite the summer being supposed to be calm.

Ottawa hasn’t done much to change their roster this offseason, ultimately choosing to simply make room for the multitude of young talent they’ve amassed over the past few years.

They made two trades, sending @Evgenii Dadonov to Vegas in exchange for defenseman @Nick Holden and they transferred former draft first pick @Logan Brown to St. Louis for another young forward @Zach Sanford. The team also inked veteran defender @Michael Del Zotto in free agency to add some more depth to the blue line.

The Senators’ most notable off-season moves were in deals their restricted free-agent agents signed (and, well, didn’t).

@Drake Batherson got a six-year contract after a stellar season in which he scored 17 goals and 34 points while @Artem Zub got a two-year bridging contract after his debut NHL season. And then there’s former No. 4 overall pick @Brady Tkachuk, who still doesn’t have a new contract after his entry contract expires at the end of the season.

Ottawa has apparently offered Tkachuk an eight-year contract worth $ 8,000,000 a year, but word is that the disconnect between the two sides comes down to the team’s refusal to add any money in contract premium. Like I said, it can’t be a Senators offseason without that kind of drama.

April 22, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Ottawa Senators forward Drake Batherson (19) faces the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

What to expect in 2021-2022?

Ottawa will return to the Atlantic Division this year, a division stronger than the group of Canadian teams they faced in 2021. Regularly facing the Lightning, Panthers, Bruins and Leafs will be a challenge, but Ottawa won’t. not appear to be a basement dweller like they were the last time they crossed the Atlantic circuit.

The reason for the optimism around the Sens, of course, comes from how they finished last season. As I mentioned, they were a respectable opponent after that first month of play and they were well on their way to overtaking teams like Calgary and Montreal in the standings if the schedule exceeded 56 games.

The key to the Ottawa season will be the internal progression of the team’s young talent.

You know what to expect from names like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk (er, assuming they can close a deal), but a breakout showing 2020 top pick Tim Stutzle would really shake the needle. Other names to watch who could make a difference for the Senators in 2021-22 are Shane Pinto, Alex Formenton and Jacob Bernard-Docker.

A bold prediction …

The Senators finish with more points in the standings than the Montreal Canadiens, who reached the Stanley Cup final in 2021.

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