The Ottawa Senators are finally on the rise, and the 2023/2024 season promises to be an exciting one for Sens fans. After missing the playoffs by just six points this past season, there is a sense of optimism around the team that they can and should make it to the postseason next year. I will discuss exactly why and how the Senators will make the playoffs in the upcoming season.
First let’s look at how close the Senators came close to making the playoffs this past season despite their November glooms. The Sens finished the year with a record of 39-35-8, good for 86 points and 6th place in the Atlantic Division. The biggest problem for the Sens is there November struggles which prevailed once again this season as the Sens went 4-9-1 in 14 games during the November month. This was the only month where the Senators had a points percentage below .500 (.321). The team likely deserved a better fate in November then they received as they lost 7 straight 1 goal games (some 2 goal games with empty net goals).
One of the key reasons for this optimism is the fact that the Senators will (knock on wood) have Josh Norris and Jakob Chychrun for the majority if not the entire season. The 23-year-old center, had a tough year, scoring 2 goals and an assist in 8 games after a shoulder injury de-railed his season. It is easy to forget that Norris just had a 35 goal, 55 point campaign in just 66 games the year prior. The senators expect Norris to be back to 100% after having surgery on his shoulder and a full off-season of rehabilitation. Along with Norris we have our shiny new toy Jakob Chychrun. The 25-year-old defenseman was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes at the deadline and had a slow but steadily improving start with the Sens. For years the Sens were trying to build a playoff caliber top-4 defense and it seems as though they have finally done it with Chabot, Zub, Sanderson and Chyrchrun. An offseason and training camp with the team should help Chychrun return to his elite level play we saw this season where he tallied 9 goals and 24 assists for 33 points in 48 games.
Need more? Well look no further then the continued development of the young core. Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle both took huge steps forward in their development this past season. Tkachuk, the 23-year-old captain, scored 35 goals and 83 points in 82 games marking his first season as a ppg player, while Stutzle, the 21-year-old superstar, scored 39 goals and 90 points in 78 games elevating his play to a truly elite level. Undeniably, much of the Sens success will ride on the shoulders of sophomore Jake Sanderson who burst onto the scene and became arguably the best defender on the Sens blueline. Sanderson had 32 points in 77 games and played elite level defense at both 5v5 and the penalty kill. I could do a deep dive into the game of Jake Sanderson, but I will save that for another day as there is so much to unpack with his game.
In addition to their young core, the Sens management has made it clear that they will be addressing their goaltending and bottom six scoring. Goaltending has been an issue for the team in recent years, Talbot was an underwhelming solution to this problem and with Forsberg coming off two MCL tears we are left with more questions then answers. While the Sens would obviously love a goaltender like Hellebuyck who’s future is unknown, how realistic of a fit is he when looking at cap and a potential trade package? In a perfect world, the Sens would acquire a vezina candidate and sign then to an 8 year extension at $1 million. However, we live in a realistic world where the Sens are more likely to look at a veteran UFA that they can sign to a 1 year deal while Sogaard develops with Belleville. Some intriguing names include Varlamov, Korpisalo and Adin Hill assuming they are not re-signed.
So why not be excited? The Ottawa Senators have reason to expect a post-season heading into the 2023/2024 NHL season. Despite missing the playoffs by just six points this season, the team has made significant improvements to their young core and defensive unit, and management has indicated a desire to address their current weaknesses. With the return of key players like Josh Norris and Jakob Chychrun, along with the continued development of stars like Brady Tkachuk, Jake Sanderson and Tim Stutzle, the Senators have the potential to be a true competitor in the upcoming season. The Senators are no longer “a year away” from competing. The time is now, playoffs or bust for 2023/2024.