New owner, stable roster have Senators eyeing end to playoff drought

OTTAWA — With a new owner incoming and stability throughout the roster, the Ottawa Senators have reasons for optimism heading into this NHL season.

Michael Andlauer is expected to be officially introduced as the team’s owner soon, and the Senators have its core group all under contract. After six seasons of missing the playoffs, the club seems poised to take the next step.

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion also feels the team has addressed issues with his club’s makeup.

He pointed out the strength in goal with the addition of Joonas Korpisalo, who will look to form a solid tandem with Anton Forsberg. Forsberg hopes to bounce back after tearing medial cruciate ligaments in both knees back in February.

Dorion also feels the defence is deeper. Jakob Chychrun will have the benefit of being with the team from the start, the maturity of Jake Sanderson and the development of Erik Brannstrom will all be key.

Despite the loss of forward Alex DeBrincat Dorion is confident with the addition of Vladimir Tarasenko and Dominik Kubalik up front.

“I think it really bodes well,” said Dorion. “It’s good for (coach D.J. Smith). He’s got a lot of things he can play with.

“As long as we can remain healthy, knock on wood, I really like our team.”

Smith’s challenge will be to find the best combinations with the new additions and seeing how they complement players like Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle and Claude Giroux, who all had great seasons last year. The Senators were six points out of a playoff spot and showed they could be competitive when it counted.

The pre-season will be about finding that chemistry.

“Everyone’s going to get the chance with everyone and then at the end we’ll go with what we think is the best roster to start the year line wise, pair wise and what have you,” said Smith. “But as we know it’s going to change as the year goes on.”

Smith expects his team to be physical and wants to see them carry the puck more. But while the players will have a lot to prove, the same could be said about Dorion and Smith.

With Andlauer taking over there has been speculation about potential changes. When asked if the GM and coach felt they were auditioning for new ownership, Dorion seemed confident.

“I don’t think at all we’re auditioning,” Dorion said. “I think there’s been a plan in place and hopefully the team continues on getting better and we’ll see what the future brings, but I can tell you, for us and for me, my relationship with D.J. is as good as it’s been.”

Smith was somewhat more cautious in his response, but understands in his position results will be key.

“My job as a coach is to make sure that we’re better and that falls on me and I’m up for the challenge,” said Smith. “I think everyone knows how much I love the city and I love these players and I think we’re ready to push to be better, but in saying that how many teams on our side is thinking the same thing today, so all we can do is worry about ourselves.”

Smith, like his players, is excited to see this team take things to the next level. The last four years have not only been challenging on players, but on the coaching staff. All are ready to show the hard work has paid off.

“I know that these guys want to win every night,” said Smith. “I know that they want to do the things. Now we’ve got to prove it and we’ve got to do it and my job is to get that out of them.”

The Senators have had lacklustre starts in recent years, and the month of November, in particular, has been an issue. Smith knows it, he says the players know it and the key will be able to move on from a bad game.

“I think part of maturing is turning the page and just trying to win the next game,” he said. “You don’t ride the highs too high and the lows too low. I think that’s part of maturity. There are no more excuses.”

Dorion said forward Josh Norris will be in a non-contact jersey to start camp as he “tweaked” something during an informal skate last week and the team is choosing to exercise caution.

Norris missed most of last season after a shoulder injury in October and underwent surgery in January after he re-injured the shoulder.

Thomas Chabot is ready to go after Senators defenceman had surgery in the off-season for a torn ligament in his wrist, but winger Tyler Boucher remains sidelined with a groin issue.

Dorion was also asked about Shane Pinto, who is still unsigned.

The 22-year-old centre is coming off his three-year, entry-level contract and is coming off a successful season that saw him compile 20 goals and 15 assists. Pinto is not on the training camp roster and is not expected to be in camp until he’s signed.

Dorion said he has been speaking with Pinto’s agents on a regular basis and hopes to have him in camp soon.

The Senators will get a first chance to see how the team looks when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in a pre-season game Sunday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press