The painful reconstruction of the Senators

The Ottawa Senators come to Montreal with a lousy club, worthy of the worst clubs in recent history.

The Senators sit last in the overall standings with one win in ten games. They are also last in goals against average of 4.80, one more goal per game than the second-to-last San Jose Sharks.

The Quebec Nordiques won only 12 games in 1989-1990. But Joe Sakic had obtained 102 points, Mats Sundin, drafted first in total a year earlier, was preparing to join the club and Adam Foote, drafted in the second round in 1989, was already showing great promise. He had even been loaned to the national team.

But it will take two more miserable seasons, so five consecutive exclusions from the playoffs, and two other top picks in total, Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros, considered the best prospect since Mario Lemieux, to finally see the emergence of a competitive club.

The Senators have some good young players. Wingers Tim Stützle and Brady Tkachuk were drafted from the top 4 these last years. Thomas Chabot is already a leading young defender, and Jake Sanderson, fifth overall in 2020, shows great promise.

But there is not yet the shadow of a Sakic, a Sundin or a Lindros, capable of bringing you six players.

The goaltender we’ve signed on for four years, Matt Murray, is awful.

The most disturbing thing is to see this host of players aged 21, 22, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Erik Brannstrom, Filip Chlapik and Vitaly Abramov, unable to break through this formation, however weak at training camp.

We finally decided to give Brannstrom a chance against the Canadiens on Thursday night. The young man, endowed with enormous attacking potential, cost Mark Stone.

The team’s first choice in 2019 (19e overall), Lassi Thomson, is only 20 years old, but he pulled away in the Finnish Premier League this fall. He was playing barely 11 minutes per game, was struck out at times and had two meager assists in 18 games. The Finnish League is not the strongest, however. Disturbing.

The 2015 first-round pick (21e overall), Colin White, 24, appears to have leveled off after a 41-point season in 71 games two years ago. A progression poles apart from that of Nick Suzuki, also 41 points in his first full season.

The development challenges of several youngsters force the Senators to employ Erik Gudbranson, Mike Reilly, Braydon Coburn (finally waived Wednesday) and Artem Zub in defense, and Derek Stepan, Auston Watson, Chris Tierney, Connor Brown and Evgeny Dadonov, all second-rate veterans, on the attack.

Fortunately, young Josh Norris, obtained in the trade from Erik Karlsson, is progressing well and allows the Senators to count on a solid first pair on the attack with Tkachuk.


Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk

But the backbone of this young team remains weak. And unlike the Nordiques at the time, the new lottery formula does not favor the Senators. They do not automatically hold the first choice in total even when finishing in the cellar.

The Senators won just one victory behind the Canadiens in 2017-18. Montreal finished 28e overall, Ottawa 30e. The Canadian chose the reset, the Senators, and their stingy owner, the rebuild. Ottawa traded Karlsson, Stone, Duchene and company, the Canadian kept Price, Weber, Gallagher and the others.

Montreal is first overall today, Ottawa last.

It is not enough either to accumulate the top picks in the draft to succeed in rebuilding. The Panthers have made the playoffs twice in 19 years even though they have drafted four times in the top 3 between 2010 and 2013, and nine times in the top 15 for 11 years.

The Buffalo Sabers have missed the playoffs for the past 11 years. They fished in the top 10 eight times since 2013, including three times in the top 2. They are 4-4-2 since the start of the season.

Will the Oilers ever emerge? They have made the playoffs only twice since 2006 despite Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and company. Six choices in the top 4 since 2010, and still no results …

The Red Wings occupy the bottom of the standings with the Senators, with a small victory more than Ottawa. Detroit is on track to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year. The Wings have never passed the 25e rank in total. Another painful reconstruction.

There is the Toronto Maple Leafs that the Senators can learn from. They have built a competitive club since they liquidated their veterans in 2015. But they were able to draft an exceptional center, Auston Matthews. The richness of their market, and of their owners, allowed them to welcome big names like John Tavares and to offer gargantuan contracts to their best players.

Still, they haven’t made it through the first round since… 2004. Pat Quinn was in charge of the Leafs and Mitch Marner was probably going to sleep after the first period of his favorite team’s games…

We want a surprise Senators victory on Thursday night. Question to boost the morale of their fans. They need it.

To read

1- John Stevens led Tyler Toffoli for many years in Los Angeles. He knows it by heart. Guillaume Lefrançois spoke to him.

2- Our distinguished colleague from the Arts, Chantal Guy, offers us a rare visit to Sports to talk to us about golf, Tiger, his father, life. I highly recommend her, she doesn’t come to see us often …

3- I’m lucky to have a boss who makes me look good. He gave me another of his flashes this week, and I made the call. Vincent Lecavalier did the rest. Thank you JF Tremblay!

4- And why not talk a little more about the Senators with Richard Labbé.

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