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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

All-Canadian Division Rival Preview: Ottawa Senators

Let’s get to know our rivals from the All-Canadian Division. Today, we have the Ottawa Senators. 

This is probably the least interesting post I’m going to do in this preview series.

The Canadian Division is going to be a wild, unpredictable ride, but if there’s one thing we can assume with a fair amount of confidence, it’s that the Ottawa Senators are going to finish at the bottom of the standings. The question with the Sens is whether they’re going to be the division’s punching bag or if they’re going to put up a fight.

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The 2019-20 season…

25-34-12 (62 points), 7th in Atlantic Division 

Goals For: 191 (24th), Goals Against: 243 (30th)

4-7-1 vs Canadian opponents

1-1-0 vs CGY, 1-0-0 vs EDM, 1-1-0 vs MTL, 0-2-1 vs TOR, 1-1-0 vs VAN, 0-2-0 vs WPG

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Last year was another tanking year for the Senators, who have now missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since making a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. Every notable name from that team — Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Craig Anderson, and so on — is gone.

In 2019-20, the Sens posted a 25-34-12 record, good for second-last in the league. The only team worse than them was the Detroit Red Wings, who put up an impressively bad 39-point season in pursuit of the No. 1 overall pick and Alexis Lafreniere.

Thanks to trading away every player of note and tanking, the Sens have themselves a really nice core of young talent. They drafted German forward Tim Stuzle with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft and used the No. 5 pick (by way of the San Jose Sharks) on defenceman Jake Sanderson. Those two join the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Erik Brannstrom, who the Sens hope can bring the team back to relevance.

Another thing to note with the Sens is that they’re the only Canadian team who didn’t make the playoffs last season, meaning a lot of their players haven’t played a game since mid-March. It won’t be easy for this young squad to hit the ground running after having nearly 10 months off from NHL action.

2021 season outlook… 

Notable Additions: Tim Stutzle, Matt Murray, Evgenii Dadonov, Derek Stepan, Austin Watson, Braydon Coburn, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Gudbranson. 

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Notable Subtractions: Anthony Duclair, Craig Anderson, Anders Nilsson, Bobby Ryan, Ron Hainsey, Mark Borowiecki, Mikkel Boedker. 

As expected with a rebuilding team, the Sens had themselves a very busy off-season.

They drafted Stutzle and Sanderson, as I mentioned above, and the former is expected to join the team in 2021 as a rookie. Unlike many of his new teammates, Stutzle won’t be coming into the season ice cold, as he just played for Germany at the World Juniors in Edmonton.

The Sens also traded for a former Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Matt Murray, signed a strong point-producing winger in Evgenii Dadonov, and added a series of veterans in Derek Stepan, Braydon Coburn, and Erik Gudbranson to provide depth to their lineup.

At a glance, the Sens look like a better team right now than they were last year, but we also have to point out the subtractions they made. Anthony Duclair walked as a free agent and J.G. Pageau was dealt away at the trade deadline, so the Sens are without two of their leading goal-scorers from the 2019-20 season.

So, in sum, they’re swapping out Pageau for Stepan down the middle and Dadonov for Duclair in the top-six. The same goes for the game of musical chairs on the blueline, as Braydon Coburn and Erik Gudbranson replace veterans Ron Hainsey and Mark Borowiecki. Murray should be an upgrade in net over Anderson, but the former Penguin is coming off a season in which he posted a .899 save percentage, so that isn’t a guarantee.

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Ultimately, Ottawa spending 2021 as a punching bag or a moderately competitive rebuilding squad will come down to the internal progression of their young talent. Can Brady Tkachuk take a step forward? Will Tim Stutzle hit the ground running? Can Josh Norris and Erik Brannstrom become impact players? Can Matt Murray return to his Stanley Cup form?

If those players perform well, the Sens could be a pesky pain in the ass for Canadian foes this year. They’re the weakest team in the division, but I certainly wouldn’t consider them an automatic win.