Last week, I went over five positive predictions for the Ottawa Senators, which was a lot of fun to write. But now, we’re at the end of August. It’s getting colder, the days have been greyer, and it’s been raining far too much to keep an entirely positive attitude. This is going to be a painful one to write, but it’s time to temper expectations. Here are five negative predictions for the upcoming Sens season.
1. The Top Four Defensemen Will Miss At least 40 games combined.
This is a really difficult way to start out because the Senators desperately need their top defensemen to stay healthy, but outside of Jake Sanderson, who managed only to miss five games in his rookie season, the other three dealt with injuries. Sanderson, Artem Zub, Jakob Chychrun, and Thomas Chabot have a total of 74 games missed due to injury last season, which doesn’t include the ten games Chychrun was scratched by the Arizona Coyotes leading up to the trade deadline. While Sanderson’s durability isn’t in question, and this was the first season Zub struggled with injuries (he only missed seven games over the previous two seasons), Chabot and Chychrun are starting to both have a track record of injury issues. Chabot has missed 37 games in the past two seasons, and Chychrun has yet to play 70 games in a single season (though he did play all 56 games in the 2020-21 shortened season).
There’s too much evidence pointing towards injury troubles on the Senators’ blue line to expect 80 or so games out of all of them. When all four are healthy, they can compete with anyone, so the Senators will have to hope that all four are in the lineup for the majority of the season.
2. The Senators will remain among the most penalized teams.
There is nothing the Ottawa Senators hate more than playing at even strength. Last season, the Sens led the league in penalty minutes with 1,017, which, as you would expect, resulted in the team playing shorthanded a lot. The Arizona Coyotes were the only team with more shorthanded time on ice.
On the flip side, the Sens led the league in time on ice on the powerplay – by a lot. The difference between them (503 minutes) and the second-highest total Florida Panthers (468 minutes) is over three minutes more than the difference between second-place Florida and tenth-place Colorado. Ottawa had a lot of powerplays.
Naturally, this resulted in Ottawa having the least amount of time played last season at even strength. With the departure of Austin Watson, who led the team with 12 fights last season but was second in penalty minutes with 123, they shouldn’t lead the league again. But even removing him from their total, they would still easily remain in the top 10, and with Brady Tkachuk and Mark Kastelic combining for 15 fights and 228 penalty minutes between the two of them, there won’t be any lack of physicality next season.
The good news is the Sens’ penalty kill was very solid. Despite leading the league in penalty minutes and having the second-most shorthanded time on ice, they were 21st in shorthanded goals allowed. Obviously, there’s a ton of room for improvement, but it’s certainly better than most would expect.
It would be nice to see the number of penalties reduced, but this is a group of players who aren’t afraid of testing officials to see what they can get away with. I don’t imagine they’ll be outside the top ten in penalties. And maybe this style of play is the reason they drew so many penalties and scored the second-highest number of powerplay goals in the league.
3. Uncertainty with coaching and management will continue.
This will only be an issue if the Senators don’t suffer their usual November collapse, which would be the justification new owner Michael Andlauer needs to clean house. There were several points last season where it felt inevitable that head coach DJ Smith would be fired, but GM Pierre Dorion stuck with him for the season.
Andlauer has always been linked to names outside of the organization for roles that are already filled. He won’t be officially taking over the team until September, and if there are moves he’d like to make to coaching or management, that’s far too close to the start of the season to replace everyone. Even if the Senators have a successful season, there will always be uncertainty surrounding management when the owner is linked to specific people. The biggest one being Steve Staios, who was president and general manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs for six seasons, the OHL team owned by Andlauer. Staios has also recently left his position as a special advisor with the Edmonton Oilers.
I mentioned earlier that replacing management in September would be too close to the season, but it’s important to note that the most likely candidate to be the new GM of the Senators left his job shortly after Andlauer was awarded the team. Where there’s smoke and all that.
4. The Senators won’t get home-ice advantage.
It’s probably a good sign for this upcoming season that I’m struggling to come up with negatives to the point of being forced to put a negative twist on what is really just a huge positive. This team should make the playoffs, but it will almost certainly be as a wild card team or maybe third place in the division if they really surprise the hockey world. Unfortunately, that means Ottawa won’t see playoff hockey at home until games 3 and 4 of that series. Like I said, this feels like a bit of a cop-out because it’s entirely based on the very positive outcome of the Sens being a playoff team. However, I think combining this with the fifth and final prediction makes for a real bummer.
5. The Senators will lose in the first round.
Please don’t yell at me. It’s so difficult making the playoffs, and there’s no such thing as an easy playoff series in the Eastern Conference. This team is so young and will probably need some playoff experience before going on a huge run. I do think it’ll be a close series, no matter who the opponent is, but I’m not expecting the city of Ottawa to see more than three playoff games in 2024.
Do I think the Sens may get to the second round or beyond? Sure! But if I have to decide what I think is more likely between winning a series or not, I unfortunately have to go with not.