(Ottawa) The Ottawa Senators missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. But unlike past years, they firmly believe this will be the last time for a number of years.
And there are good reasons to be so optimistic.
The Senators posted their best record since the 2016-17 season with a 39-35-8 record following a season-ending 43 loss to the Buffalo Sabers.
Despite several injuries and a disastrous November (4-9-1), the Senators were in the thick of the race for a draft berth in the East.
For some, like captain Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, these were their first major games with the Sens.
“I hate to see the season end in April, I hope it’s the last time,” Tkachuk admitted. I don’t think that will be the case from now on. That’s what we believe in this locker room. The next step is to no longer take time off in April. »
Claude Giroux, who came before the last campaign, is also angry at the turn of events.
“It’s not a big frustration, it’s more of a disappointment. I think we have a team that deserves to be playoffs. That’s why I’m a little frustrated. I still think we did well. »
Like his players, head coach D.J. Smith believes the team is ready to take a step forward.
The Sens finished the season with six 20-goal scorers. Tim Stützle set personal bests with 39 goals, 51 assists and 90 points. He is one of only four players 21 and under to post 90 or more points since 2013-14, along with Connor McDavid, Jack Hughes and Mitch Marner.
Tkachuk also set career highs with 35 goals and 48 assists, while Giroux scored 35 for the first time. It’s no surprise the trio have spent the entire season together.
Heading into the offseason, Cam Talbot, Austin Watson, Derick Brassard, Travis Hamonic, Nick Holden and Patrick Brown could all benefit from freelancing.
Hamonic said he would like to stay in Ottawa and the role he played with Jake Sanderson in his first season should not be underestimated. If the two clans can get along, the presence of a veteran shooting from the right at the blue line would make sense.
Brassard, who came on a professional trial contract, proved to be a great insurance policy in the absence of Josh Norris. Brassard’s season ended on March 30 when he suffered a broken leg and a severe ankle sprain. Although he still has to go through rehabilitation, he has not closed the door on a possible return.
Holden won’t be back and at 31, Watson admitted he was looking for a multi-year deal and it might not be the Senators who were going to offer him.
Talbot failed to live up to expectations and injuries kept him out of more than 32 games (17-14-0).
“I wish I had done more,” he said. I have not been able to stay healthy and make a difference. I wanted to help this team get to the playoffs. »
With Talbot and Anton Forsberg sidelined, Mads Sogaard took the opportunity to prove he can play in the NHL, going 8-6-3 with a 3.32 GAA.
“He’s the guardian of the future,” Smith said of Sogaard. He had to play a lot of games because of injuries to veterans. »
On the restricted free agent side, the Senators will have to decide what to do with Alex DeBrincat, Shane Pinto, Dylan Gambrell, Julien Gauthier, Egor Sokolov and Erik Brännström.
But DeBrincat doesn’t sound like he intends to sign a long-term pact with the Senators, as he spoke about the challenges of acclimating to a new team, a new coach and a new city for him and his young family.
“We struggled to do that in the first few months,” he said. We had our ups and downs, that’s how I would describe it. I think I learned a lot this season and that will make me better next season. »
Priorities could be Pinto and Brännström, as well as trying to tie down long-term Sanderson, who will play the final year of his contract next year.
The coach’s situation is also ambiguous, with new owners arriving in the coming months. Smith often repeated “if I’m back next year” when formulating his answers.