After a spectacular 2016-2017 season which culminated in an impressive playoff run, the Ottawa Senators have had a less than spectacular follow up season here in 2017-2018. After placing second in the Atlantic Division and being one game away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, the Senators are now second last in the Eastern Conference with a 15-22-9 record. Factors both on and off the ice have had an impact on the Senator’s struggles.
Ottawa has battled some crucial injuries, including starting the season without their all-star captain Erik Karlsson. Karlsson underwent ankle surgery in June and missed the first 5 games of the season. 5 games does not seem like much, but Karlsson is team captain and undoubtedly the number one threat Ottawa has. Ottawa has also recently racked up some injuries to key players. Johnny Oduya was placed on the IR after a matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an undisclosed injury. He was also injured in the season opener against the Washington Capitals, and missed 6 games. This certainly a big hit for the Sens; Oduya averages close to 20 minutes per game and is a solid presence in the defensive zone. Mark Stone was also sidelined with an injury in the game against the Leafs. He is listed as day-to-day with a knee injury, so he shouldn’t be out long term. Either way, Ottawa has had to line juggle to fill these slots which hasn’t been good for chemistry.
Ottawa attempted to bolster their lineup on November 5th with a blockbuster 3 team trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators. Ottawa acquired Matt Duchene from the Avalanche, but had to give up Kyle Turris to Nashville. The Senators also sent goaltender Andrew Hammond, their first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and forward Shane Bowers (their first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft) to Colorado. Nashville sent the Avalanche a second-round pick in 2018, 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard (a second-round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft), and forward Vladislav Kamenev (a second-round choice in 2014). That trade has not done much to improve their success, and Duchene has been struggling since joining the Sens. He had 10 points in 14 games with the Avalanche, but only has 14 points in the 39 games with the Senators. Kyle Turris meanwhile has been performing modestly, notching 20 points in 30 games with the Preds. The deal hasn’t exactly worked out in Ottawa’s favour, considering the assets they gave up to acquire Duchene. But the trade talks are just beginning.
Eugene Melnyk has not helped his team’s cause by making comments about poor fan support and speculation of relocating the franchise. There could be other alternatives to relocating the franchise entirely, starting with the location of the Canadian Tire Centre. The home of the Sens is currently in Kanata, a solid 20 minute drive from downtown Ottawa (not including traffic), and close to an hour and half on public transportation. Accessibility is definitely an issue, the distance from downtown as well as the nightmare of the CTC parking lot. Melnyk also said that since he’s already running the organization on a budget, the next area that could be targeted is player’s salaries. Sens fans are obviously concerned about this statement, especially since Erik Karlsson becomes a free agent after next year. There have been rumours floating around that a Karlsson trade is not out of the question. Although these are just rumours, GM Pierre Dorion threw out the phrase “even Wayne Gretzky got traded” while meeting with the media on Thursday in Ottawa. Many executives around the league don’t believe that Karlsson will be shipped out by the trade deadline. The Senators will most likely try to sign an extension with Karlsson this summer before he becomes a free agent in July 2019. Karlsson said himself he wants to sign a long term deal that he deems reasonable, and wants to stay in Ottawa.
Only time will tell how management handles the trade deadline in Ottawa, whether they will sell, or decide to soldier on and hope to bounce back next season. This season isn’t exactly a write-off for the Sens, but things are not improving and the season is starting to slip away. Something needs to happen to make a change in Ottawa; now it’s just a matter of figuring out what that is.