Expectations weren’t very high for the Ottawa Senators this winter.
After an unexpected victory at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opener, things returned to normal afterwards.
And despite the prospect of better days once the rebuilding is complete, in a few years gloom seems to be setting in among Senators fans.
Since that game against the Maple Leafs, Ottawa has lost four times on a regular basis and once in overtime. They have allowed 17 goals in their last three games and scored… five.
Coach DJ Smith spoke up on Tuesday. “Some of our players take their positions for granted,” he lamented. It will be necessary to give others the opportunity to show that they can work a little harder than those who are in training. ”
Smith was definitely targeting the veterans. Some of them had been demoted Tuesday in training.
But can we ask players to give more than they can provide?
Among Pierre Dorion’s many acquisitions to “mentor” his youngsters, Derek Stepan, 30, cost a second round pick. He had been on the downswing for two years in Arizona, with seasons of 35 and 28 points.
We can nevertheless understand Dorion’s choice, in a context of austerity in Ottawa. Stepan’s salary takes up 6.5 million of the total payroll, but only 2 million remained to be paid to him for his last year of contract.
His hiring allowed the Senators to artificially inflate his payroll at a lower cost. But it gets complicated on the ice. He has two points in his first six games and is -5. He will likely start Wednesday night’s game in Vancouver on a fourth line.
Erik Gudbranson also made it easier for Pierre Dorion to reach the salary floor. He receives 4 million annually in this last year of the contract, with 3 million salary to be paid. It cost a fifth-round pick, offered to the Ducks. They had previously acquired Gudbranson for a seventh-round pick a year earlier.
But to imagine transforming a defender of third pair into defender of first pair (with Thomas Chabot) was utopian. Gudbranson will take a step back. It is still too high in his case. He completes a pair with former defenseman Mike Reilly. The latter had lost in Montreal his battle for a post at the hands of Brett Kulak and Victor Mete.
We were generous to Evgeni Dadonov. The 31-year-old winger had seasons of 28, 28 and 25 goals in Florida, but was playing with big names. He was offered 5 million per season for three years. Here he is already on a third trio. His contract is structured in a particular way. He is getting 3.5 million this year and will receive 6.5 million in two years. We could save money by buying out the deal next year. But let’s still give him the chance to show off.
The acquisition of goaltender Matt Murray looked bad on trade day and it looks even worse today. Murray lost his number one job in Pittsburgh last winter. His stop rate didn’t even hit the .900 threshold.
The Penguins were looking to get rid of it to reduce their payroll. The Senators have done them that service. They were even offered a second round pick as a bonus. Pierre Dorion has enriched him by 25 million for four years, or 6.25 million per season. After five games, Murray has an average of 4.47 and a save rate of .862…
Obviously, the Senators would be more competitive if some youngsters had wowed in training camp. But Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Erik Brannstrom and Lassi Tompson, all first-round picks except Formenton, are at the Belleville Senators training camp, not Ottawa right now.
Among the rare good news, the lead trio of Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, all aged 22 or under, do well under the circumstances. They total 11 points in six games.
Colossus Nick Paul, who has been trailing in the minors since arriving in Ottawa in the Jason Spezza trade in 2014, is off to a good start to the season.
Tim Stützle, third overall in 2020, scored a spectacular goal, but it’s still tough overall and that’s normal for a 19-year-old. The first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière was also blanked in his first six games in New York (we recall, for analysis purposes, that Jesperi Kotkaniemi was 19 years old last year…).
We will also have to wait for defenseman Jake Sanderson, fifth overall pick, solid at the World Junior Championship. He has five points in nine games at North Dakota University. His teammate Shane Pinto, drafted in the second round in 2019, is also having a very good season with 19 points in 16 games.
At this rate, the Senators will also likely draft again in the top 3 this year. They will undoubtedly be very good one day. But not right now.
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