There was no gathering of media at the Canadian Tire Centre. Instead, countless many short Zoom interviews were held.
But there was one constant message – this squad wants to compete for a playoff berth next season.
The Senators opened this season 2-12-1. Whether it was goaltending. roster construction or just a new team attempting to blend in a short amount of time, the club’s dismal start likely cost them a postseason spot or at least competing for one.
To their credit, the club finished the 2021 campaign 21-16-4. If the Senators had won only six of their first 15 games, it would’ve been them and not the Canadiens facing the Maple Leafs in the first round. That’s how close the margins are. Every game in a shortened-season is an important one, especially when they’re all interdivisional.
Head coach D.J. Smith cited tightening up the defense and solid netminding was a key to his team’s success down the stretch. And this is what’ll take to thrust the Senators to the next level.
“If you look at the teams that make the playoffs, goals against has to come way down. We set a goal for ourselves internally. Heading into the Calgary series late March or early April, we wanted to keep our goals against at 2.8. That’s what gets you into the playoffs, and I can tally up the last two games – I believe we were right there or made it. And the wins correlated with it. If you keep the puck out of your net, you have a chance to go to the next gear. We think we’ve got some guys that can score here, but as much as you score, if don’t keep them out, you’ll lose, so it’s got to be a big focus for us moving forward.”
Defenseman Thomas Chabot chose to look at the season as a lesson, which bodes well for the Senators’ future.
“I think we kind of realized as a group we were able to beat any team and show up every night, and be a really good team. When we did that, we used our speed a lot more, we held on to the puck a lot more. we realized we were a really good team. I think it showed in games. I think we’ve proven that. I think that’s something that’s really good – we want to bring back next year, and keep on building on that. We all wish we could’ve taken back the first 15 games of the season. It might have been a different year, but at the end of the day, it’s a learning curve for us. The way that we turned things around in the last 30-something games, it’s really good for us.”
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We also learned summer plans for some.
Matt Murray will remain in Ottawa for the better part of this offseason. His wife, Christina enjoyed the city and they hope to explore more. Ottawa is also not too far away from the Murray’s more permanent Muskoka residence.
Jacob Bernard-Docker will return to UND prior to heading back to his native Calgary area to train.
Joey Daccord will train at his dad, Brian’s goalie camp in the Boston area. The elder Daccord is assistant general manager and goalie development coach with the Coyotes.
Drake Batherson plans to skate with his group of all stars in Nova Scotia who include Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand.
Only 19-years old, Tim Stützle just wants to go home and be with his family and friends in Germany. It’s the longest stretch he’s been away from home.
Connor Brown and Nick Paul will don the Maple Leaf for Canada at the IIHF World Championship being held in Latvia May 21 – June 6.
Artem Zub is on Russia’s roster.
Drake Batherson, (Canada), Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk (USA), Nikita Zaitsev (Russia) were invited by their respective countries to play. However, all declined their invites.
The decisions for Batherson and Tkachuk were easy. Both head into the summer as restricted free agents – large paydays await.
Notching 17 goals, 17 assists in 56 games, Batherson had a breakthrough season. The 23-year old gained confidence with his lethal shot, while becoming an adept passer. Batherson was on a 56-point pace based on an 82-game season.
It’s unknown whether either player will receive a maximum eight-year contract or a shorter bridge deal, but in the case of Tkachuk, his average annual salary will be in $7.5 – 8-plus million range.
“It’s a big summer. I love playing here. I love everything about this city, the people here, the fans, the staff,” said Tkachuk. “It’s so much fun to come to the rink every single day. It’s so much fun to be a part of this community. I love playing here. I’ll have to let my agent, (Craig Oster) and Pierre (Senators GM Dorion), their professionals in their respective fields – let them kind of do their job. It’s all going to work out.”
Another topic on the summer slate will be; is time to name a captain? For the past two seasons, Dorion has surrounded the team with veteran players who provided leadership. The belief is next season one of Chabot or Tkachuk will don the ‘C.’
“That’s something myself, Pierre, and (Senators’ owner) Mr. Melynk will speak about at length this summer. If it’s the time, we have a lot of guys in that room that really stepped up leadership-wise- the obvious ones, everyone knows. It’s been not just one guy. Someone obviously will be named at some point, and that’ll be Mr. Melnyk and Pierre at some point to consult.”