The beautiful thing about August is your favorite hockey team hasn’t lost yet. I suppose they haven’t won either, but it’s the time of year when anything is possible, and we can focus on how everything will absolutely go according to plan. And for the Ottawa Senators, who play in a division where seven out of eight teams have genuine playoff potential, a lot is going to have to go according to plan.
Here are five predictions for this upcoming season that are filled with offseason optimism:
1. Joonas Korpisalo will set a career-high in wins.
Easing into the list with what feels like a fairly lukewarm take as long as injuries aren’t a problem. As I mentioned previously in my last piece about the Senators’ playoff chances, Korpisalo has never had an especially high number of starts in a season, setting a high last year with 39. Whether he surprises and wins the starting job outright or splits the season with Anton Forsberg, his career-high of 19 wins shouldn’t hold up past this season. As awful as Cam Talbot was last season, he earned 17 wins in 36 starts with Ottawa. Korpisalo should have a higher number in both columns, even if he’s only putting up league-average numbers.
2. The Senators will have multiple 40 goal scorers for the first time since 2007-08.
This one is a bigger jump into the realm of extreme optimism, but I’m a big believer in this team’s offense, and they’re so young that it would be silly to not expect further growth.
Tim Stützle scored 39 goals as a 21-year-old last season. I’m not going to say that 45 goals this coming season is a lock, but if you’re setting the over/under at 39.5, I imagine the majority of hockey fans are taking the over.
Josh Norris barely played last season due to a shoulder injury, but the season prior, he scored at a 43 goal pace. If he stays healthy, there’s a very real chance he can put together a 40 goal season. Now, it’s important to remember that on top of last year’s injury, he suffered another shoulder injury the season before, hence the 43 goal “pace”. Twice isn’t a pattern, but two similar injuries in back-to-back seasons is worth being a bit worried about. That said, we’ve seen over 120 games of Josh Norris when he’s healthy, and he’s the real deal. He may have a slower start after missing so much time, but I’d be shocked if he scores under 30.
Brady Tkachuk is the final 40 goal candidate I want to take a look at. Over the past three seasons, we’ve seen him come into his own as an offensive force, scoring 17 (24 pace during the Covid-shortened season), 30, and 35 goals. By that math, 40 would be the logical next step. I don’t know if his style of play will result in 35+ goals every single year from here on out, but I would be surprised if multiple 40 goal seasons aren’t in his future, so why not have his first this coming season?
3. The Senators will have a top 5 powerplay.
Finishing 8th last season with a 24.5% powerplay, Ottawa was only 1.5% behind the fifth-place Dallas Stars. I don’t want to point any fingers, but imagine if just a few of those wide-open net misses from Alex DeBrincat had gone in? With Norris back in the lineup and an improved forward depth in case of an injury here or there, it’s completely reasonable to expect even better numbers on the PP.
4. Tim Stützle will get a Selke vote.
After scoring 90 points in his third season, Stützle is getting the hype he deserves. Obviously, some of that comes with being a top-3 draft pick, but national – and even more so international attention is rarely something Senators players experience. It felt like by the time Erik Karlsson was getting the praise he was due, he already had two Norris Trophies. Mark Stone was finally top 5 in Selke voting for three seasons immediately after being traded from Ottawa to Vegas. At 21 years old, Stützle is quickly becoming a household name, and while his offensive talent is recognized, anyone who doesn’t watch more than a handful of Sens games every year probably doesn’t know how strong he is defensively. Cards on the table, I was shocked by how effective he was on the penalty kill last season. As someone who’s watched something like 95% of his NHL games, I never considered he could be such a strong two-way player, especially with all of the Patrick Kane comparisons when he was drafted. With more eyes on him this season, it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the league takes notice of how strong his defensive game is.
5. The Senators will have their highest attendance since 2015-16.
Yeah yeah, I don’t like attendance talk either, but things are finally on the upswing for the team, and it’s been a while since attendance was mentioned in a positive light. With new ownership, a team that should be competing for a playoff spot all season, and hopefully more than four wins in November this time, there shouldn’t be any problems filling seats (outside of the usual issues playing in the far west end of a government city). Last season the team averaged 16,757 fans per game, the highest since 2015-16 when the average attendance was 18,085. Hopefully, hockey fans in Ottawa are excited about this season because it would be great to see the team pass the 18,000 mark for the first time in seven years.