Senators Final Opening Night Roster
Guest Writer: Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)
The Senators have now declared their official roster coming out of training camp, and there are definitely some points of interest/discussion.
By all accounts, the top line of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Claude Giroux will start the year together. They’ve certainly earned the right to prove they can return to their 2022/23 form, where they emerged as one of the top lines in the NHL. The persistent injury to Josh Norris and the ongoing delay in signing Shane Pinto was always going to heavily impact the middle-six forwards, but the team’s final training camp picks added fuel to the fire. Ridley Greig will have a chance to centre what looks like a 3rd line between Mathieu Joseph and Drake Batherson, while AHL journeyman Rourke Chartier will get an unexpected chance to centre for Vladimir Tarasenko and Dominik Kubalik.
This will leave the team vulnerable down the middle to start the season, and raise legitimate questions about the team’s ability to win early critical games. Furthering these concerns is the decision to favour a dead-puck-era 4th line of Mark Kastelic, Zack MacEwan and Parker Kelly. This reflects the training camp outcome of not retaining more skilled options like Jiri Smejkal, Josh Bailey, or Roby Jarventie to start the season, despite significant preseason contributions from each. It will be interesting to see how long the team will be able to tolerate having Pinto out of the lineup, especially if they’re forced to play just 11 forwards.
Grade: C+; should be higher, but having neither Norris/Pinto playing is a major problem
No roster area has improved more since the start of last season than the blue line. Flash back to one year ago, and not only did they not have Jakob Chychrun, they also didn’t know if Artem Zub would sign an extension before the trade deadline, and Jake Sanderson had yet to play a single NHL game. What had once been a team best known for playing Thomas Chabot nearly 30min/GP out of sheer necessity suddenly now boasts a top-4D that is legitimately among the best in the NHL. The third pairing features Erik Brannstrom and Travis Hamonic, who both played significant 2nd pairing minutes last year, and there’s no shortage of quality AHL depth.
Grade: A; if the team falters this year, it won’t be the fault of this group
The Senators have struggled to find any consistency in goal since the loss of Craig Anderson in 2019/20. Failed experiments with Matt Murray and Cam Talbot, the ill-timed trade of Filip Gustavsson, and nearly setting an NHL record by using 7 different goaltenders in a single season made goaltending the undisputed #1 priority of the off-season. This led directly to the UFA signing of Joonas Korpisalo, who was the top goaltender available on the free agency market. The deal almost certainly provided too much $$$/term, but it hit the mark in terms of upgrading the quality of their NHL goaltending tandem by providing Anton Forsberg with a solid counterpart. Factor in the AHL availability of both Mads Sogaard and Leevi Merilainen, and it’s hard to recall a time when the goaltending situation has had as much quality and depth.
Grade: B; good enough to make the playoffs, but lacking in proven high-end quality
Overall, the Senators have a roster that should allow them to be competitive in a very tough Atlantic Division, and potentially even challenge for a non-wildcard playoff spot. However, it’s persistently disappointing to see GM Pierre Dorion and coach DJ Smith making roster decisions that seem hell-bent on over-estimating the value of AHL foot soldiers. If they can stay healthy, they should at least be capable of a wild-card playoff spot. However, the Norris/Pinto situation has to be resolved soon, before the team falls back into its routine of eliminating all playoff hopes by the end of November.
What do you think of the Senators’ roster and playoff chances? Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!