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What Went Wrong: Ottawa Senators

by Corey Abbott

What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.

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The Ottawa Senators will be up first after the team finished 31st overall in the league standings.  This marks the second straight season and the fourth time in six years that Ottawa has failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  It’s incredible to think that the Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017.  The team lost in double overtime of Game 7 that year to Pittsburgh.  The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup and it’s been a rough ride for the Senators ever since.  

The Senators were a mess on and off the ice in 2018-19, but we won’t be cover the problems with ownership or the Uber video here.  Of course those problems have made it difficult for the team to hold on to their more talented players.  Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman were traded away before the season started, while Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel were dealt close to the deadline.  

Ottawa ranked 15th in the league in goals for per game (2.95), but Stone and Duchene were the team’s top-two producers at 62 and 58 points, respectively.  Stone, Duchene and Dzingel also represented three of the team’s four 20-goal scorers.  That’s certainly not encouraging for the team going into next year.  Offense wasn’t necessarily an issue this past campaign, especially before all the trades went down, but it certainly could become one moving forward.

The real problem for the Senators in 2018-19 was goals against.  The club allowed a league-high 301 goals and an NHL-worst 3.67 goals against per game.  Ottawa also surrendered the most 5-on-5 goals with 219.  The Senators permitted the most shots against per game (35.7) and the team finished with a team save percentage of .897 (26th overall).  

Ottawa had six different goaltenders start for the team this past season.  Craig Anderson led the way with 50 appearances, including 47 starts.  Anders Nilsson, who played in 24 games and made 22 starts, had the best statistics among the team’s goalie group with a 2.90 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.  He is a pending unrestricted free agent.  Ottawa’s goaltenders were under siege most nights and they didn’t have much room for error, as the team had a .346 win percentage in one-goal games, which ranked 30th overall.    

The Senators also had the worst road record in the NHL with a mark of 11-28-2.  Ottawa had a 7-16-1 record from January through February and then head coach Guy Boucher was fired and replaced by associate coach Marc Crawford.  The team finished with a mark of 7-10-1 following the coaching change.  Crawford should be in the mix for the job going into 2019-20, but the team is expected to explore all options.

Usually at the end of a horrible season like this, a team has a good draft pick to look forward to, but Ottawa’s first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft belongs to the Colorado Avalanche because of the trade that sent Duchene to the Senators.  That pick turned into the fourth overall selection, which had plenty of people in Ottawa breathing a sigh of relief.  Ottawa will have a first-round draft pick to work with in June, though, which was acquired from Columbus in exchange for Duchene.  The Senators also have 12 picks stockpiled for the 2020 NHL Draft.  

There isn’t a great deal of hope that Ottawa will be much better in 2019-20.  No team can trade away the talent they did and expect to bounce back immediately, but Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom and Drake Batherson are some key building blocks.  Tkachuk and Chabot were bright spots in what was a dismal season.  

Craig Anderson - Anderson has one more season left on his current contract and he needs to bounce back from what was the worst year of his career.  He registered just 17 wins, while posting a 3.51 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.  It’s a lot to ask for a 37-year-old netminder to be the backbone of a team that just struggled mightily in their own end, but he is just a couple of seasons removed from a recording a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage over 40 appearances.  

Chris Tierney - Tierney accounted for a personal best 48 points in 81 games during his first campaign with the Senators.  He scored just nine goals, though, and generated 16 points in 31 matches after the All-Star break.  Tierney, who was acquired from San Jose in the Karlsson deal, had a hot start, with 18 points in his first 22 outings, and Ottawa will need more from him in 2019-20. 

Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Pageau missed the first 42 games of the year after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp.  In 39 appearances, he produced four goals and eight assists.  Pageau has been used as a checking-line forward in the past, but he has enjoyed spurts of offensive success when he has moved up the depth chart.  If he lands a top-six forward spot in 2019-20 then he will be counted on for much more.  

Colin White - White collected 14 goals and 27 assists in 71 games during the 2018-19 season.  He spent plenty of time with Stone and Tkachuk, so he could enter next year as the team’s first-line center.  He continued to play with Tkachuk after Stone was traded and he finished with eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 13 contests.  The 22-year-old is shaping up to be an important player for Ottawa and he will need to make positive strides in 2019-20.   

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.