While Ottawa finds themselves well out of the playoff picture again, Postmedia’s Ken Warren posits that there are still a few players with a lot to play for down the stretch. One of those is defenseman Erik Brannstrom. The centerpiece of the Mark Stone trade, the 22-year-old has struggled considerably in Ottawa and has spent most of this season in the minors. Warren suggests that Jake Sanderson is likely to join the Senators following his college season which could push Brannstrom further down the depth chart to the point where the 15th pick in 2017 could soon be trying to showcase himself for other teams. Brannstrom is in his final season of waiver exemption and will be a restricted free agent this summer and if he’s made available, he could be an intriguing trade chip for GM Pierre Dorion.
It doesn’t make for much of an exciting stretch run, but it just might be the truth and The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington isn’t afraid to make the claim: less than halfway through the 2021-22 NHL season, the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots appear to be locked up. While the eight in place can certainly jockey for position, Harrington believes that those teams currently in the postseason in the East will stay in postseason position and those not, including his Buffalo Sabres, have nothing left to play for this season. Do you agree?
The conference standings do paint a pretty bleak picture for the playoff race, as the gap between the eighth and final playoff spot and the next closest competitor is sizeable. In terms of both absolute points and points percentage, the Boston Bruins sit in eighth in the East with 46 points and a .657 points percentage, holding the second wild card spot if the postseason started today. In ninth place in both categories are the Detroit Red Wings, but calling it a distant ninth is generous. Detroit has 39 points on the year, just seven back of Boston, but having played four more games than the Bruins the Red Wings are actually just a .500 team, 157 percentage points back. Every other team outside the playoff picture is under .500 and they are all chasing a Bruins team that is 8-2 in their past ten games, riding a five-game winning streak. Just ahead of Boston are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are also 8-2 in their last ten. The only other teams in the conference that are not 200+ percentage points ahead of Detroit are the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
[See: Eastern Conference Standings]
Statistically, there don’t appear to be any clear underachievers outside of the playoff picture primed for a late push either. All eight teams not in a playoff spot in the East have a negative goal differential, with the top mark being the Columbus Blue Jackets at -15. In contrast, the worst differential among the playoff teams is the Rangers’ +17 and they are the only club below +20. Hardly any of the non-playoff teams hold a spot in the top half of the league in any major statistical category either. The New York Islanders are ninth in goals against per game and eleventh in penalty kill efficiency, the Blue Jackets are tied for twelfth in goals for per game, the New Jersey Devils are thirteenth on the penalty kill, and the Ottawa Senators are tied for fourteenth in power play efficiency – end of list.
Yet, can the playoff picture really be sealed up this early? The law of averages suggests that a current playoff team is likely to slump while a current non-playoff team is likely to hit their stride in the second half. In fact, this may have already begun. While the Bruins and Penguins have been surging, the Capitals are just 4-3-3 in their last ten games and struggling to find consistent goaltending and defensive play. The Capitals’ record is also buoyed by a league-leading nine overtime points and their abysmal 30th-ranked power play is a major stain on their playoff resume. If there is a pretender in the East, it could be Washington. The Rangers may also be due for some regression in the second half. New York has exceeded expectations thus far and have somehow found ways to win despite trouble scoring. Their 2.85 goals per game is tied for 18th in the league, behind the likes of Columbus and New Jersey and just .01 ahead of Ottawa. On the flip side of the playoff picture, the Islanders are one of the biggest disappointments of the season. A conference finalist last year, the Isles looked to be building a true contender. While they are still playing a good defensive game, the team has had no luck offensively this season. Yet, with a league-low 30 games played, the Islanders could have time to find their game and fight their way back into postseason consideration. At least on paper, the Philadelphia Flyers should also be better than their current record, while the rebuilding Red Wings and Blue Jackets should be happy with their performance so far this season but would be even happier to get their young rosters into a postseason battle.
It is hard to remember a conference having no battle for playoff position in recent memory, especially so early in the season. While it looks like that could be the case this year in the East, is that actual a realistic expectation? Is the current gap in the standings just too wide to overcome? Or is there enough potential for one or two teams in the playoff picture to collapse while one or two on the outside find a way back? Vote now and comment on which teams, if any, could drop out of the playoff picture and who might replace them.
Free agent winger Andrei Kuzmenko appears to have narrowed his list of teams he’s considering signing with for next season and the Senators are on that list, reports Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch (Twitter link). Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion indicated recently they were interested in the 25-year-old who sits second in KHL scoring this season with 20 goals and 33 assists in 45 games. Kuzmenko is expected to wait until after the season to sign, ensuring he’ll be capped at a one-year, entry-level pact while allowing him to be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the 2023 offseason.
- Still with Ottawa, Dorion mentioned in an appearance on 630 CHED (audio link) that winger Tyler Boucher won’t be playing right away with OHL Ottawa. The Senators recently signed the 2021 first-round pick, ending his college eligibility but he is dealing with a lingering injury that will take a week or two to recover.
- Connor Brown played more than 19 minutes last night, scoring a goal and an assist in the Ottawa Senators win over the Calgary Flames. He did it all with a broken jaw, apparently, as head coach D.J. Smith told TSN radio today that the forward was hit with a puck in the warm-up that caused the injury. He’ll is considered out week-to-week now as he recovers. Brown has five goals and 19 points in 26 games this season.
During a live reveal on ESPN’s SportsCenter program in the United States, the National Hockey League unveiled their four divisional rosters for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Eight skaters and two goalies were announced for each team, leaving one skater spot open for each division. That last spot will once again be decided by a fan vote, who they can select by voting at NHL.com/LastMenIn.
The head coaches of each team were announced earlier, decided by the teams in first place (by points percentage) in their division on New Years Day. Florida’s Andrew Brunette heads the Atlantic Division, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour will coach the Metropolitan Division, Colorado’s Jared Bednar is the bench boss for the Central Division, and Vegas’ Peter DeBoer will serve as the Pacific Division’s coach.
Below are the full rosters for each division.
F Auston Matthews “C” (Toronto Maple Leafs)
F Drake Batherson (Ottawa Senators)
F Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
F Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers)
F Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)
F Nick Suzuki (Montreal Canadiens)
D Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo Sabres)
D Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
G Jack Campbell (Toronto Maple Leafs)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning)
F Alex Ovechkin “C” (Washington Capitals)
F Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes)
F Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
F Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils)
F Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
D Adam Fox (New York Rangers)
D Adam Pelech (New York Islanders)
D Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets)
G Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes)
G Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins)
F Nathan MacKinnon “C” (Colorado Avalanche)
F Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets)
F Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks)
F Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild)
F Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)
F Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues)
F Joe Pavelski (Dallas Stars)
D Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche)
G Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators)
G Cam Talbot (Minnesota Wild)
F Connor McDavid “C” (Edmonton Oilers)
F Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers)
F Jordan Eberle (Seattle Kraken)
F Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames)
F Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings)
F Timo Meier (San Jose Sharks)
F Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights)
D Alex Pietrangelo (Vegas Golden Knights)
G Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks)
G John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks)
Ahead of USA Hockey’s roster unveiling tomorrow of the 25-man contingent that will head to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, a few names of players named to the team are leaking today. Per the Grand Forks Herald’s Brad Elliott Schlossman, one of those players is University of North Dakota defenseman (and Ottawa Senators prospect) Jake Sanderson. Sanderson, the fifth overall pick in 2020, has 22 points through 17 games as an assistant captain at UND. He’ll undoubtedly be a huge part of Team USA’s blueline in Beijing.
More Olympic notes for USA Hockey:
- Seattle Kraken prospect Matty Beniers will also be on the final roster, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler reports. The 6’1″, 174-lb center is enjoying a great sophomore season at the University of Michigan with 26 points in 22 games. He’ll also likely be one of the team’s big go-to players without NHL talent on the team.
- A second University of Michigan player will be going, per Wheeler — Vegas Golden Knights pick Brendan Brisson. The team’s 29th overall pick in 2020 has 27 points in 23 games there this year, and while he might not play as prominent a role as Beniers on the team, he’s a great two-way center who should be a great energy player for Team USA.
The Ottawa Senators have announced a pair of very different transactions for two of their young players. Tim Stutzle has been placed in the COVID protocol, likely ruling him out for the team’s return to action on Thursday. Stutzle joins Anton Forsberg in the protocol and leaves just Brady Tkachuk and Artem Zub as the regular Senators that haven’t been in the protocol this season.
Still just 19, Stutzle has 15 points in 29 games this season and 44 in 82 career matches. That’s an impressive start for the 2020 third overall pick, but it still hasn’t resulted in much success for the team overall. Ottawa is just 9-18-2 on the season despite general manager Pierre Dorion suggesting in the offseason that the rebuild is over. The team hasn’t played since January 1 thanks to COVID concerns and attendance restrictions but will be back in action on Thursday against the Calgary Flames.
While Stutzle has an isolation period to look forward to, a future teammate is looking at a much more exciting prize. The Senators have loaned Philippe Daoust to the Saint John Seadogs of the QMJHL where he will chase a Memorial Cup after starting the year with the Belleville Senators. The 20-year-old forward has five points in 15 games with Belleville this season, but after the Sea Dogs acquired his rights a few days ago it was clear that he would be heading back to junior hockey to finish the year.
Daoust, selected 158th overall in 2020, was outstanding for the Moncton Wildcats in the shortened 2020-21 season, scoring 28 points in 21 games. The Sea Dogs acquired him as part of a ten-piece trade last week as they load up for a championship run. The 2022 Memorial Cup is set to be held in Saint John, meaning the host club will get an automatic entry.
Not yet signed to his entry-level contract, Daoust was playing for Belleville on an AHL deal and will still be in line for a three-year NHL deal whenever he does sign with Ottawa.
Jan 10: Boucher has been officially loaned to the 67’s, meaning he’ll be in junior for the rest of the season.
Dec 28: Tyler Boucher’s college career will last just 17 games, as the Ottawa Senators have signed the top prospect to an entry-level contract. Now ineligible to return to Boston University, Boucher is expected to be loaned to the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, the CHL team that selected him in 2019. Senators general manager Pierre Dorion had this to say:
We’re pleased to have Tyler under contract. He’s a power forward who plays a heavy, physical game. He’s driven, is strong with the puck, has a big shot and goes hard to the net. His good hands in tight areas will be of particular benefit to him going forward. We expect him to be an important part of this team’s future.
Boucher, 18, was selected 10th overall in this year’s draft, picked just before Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cole Sillinger. A member of the U.S. National Team Development Program for the past several years, he played 17 games at Boston University this season and recorded just three points. Boucher had been invited to the U.S. Summer Showcase in June, but didn’t manage to earn a spot on this year’s World Junior team. He’ll be eligible again next year and should have a better chance after playing at the OHL level, where his offensive game should find more room to operate.
The son of longtime NHL goaltender Brian Boucher, he should have lots of support as he makes the switch to OHL hockey. Brian Boucher also played in the CHL, taking his talents to the WHL to play for the Tri-City Americans. His son will now try to make a similar transition before making the leap to the NHL down the road, and the Senators will be there to guide him the whole way.
Another one of the team’s high draft picks, Boucher was nevertheless selected a little higher than many expected. Ranked 25th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and 29th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, most thought he’d come off the board right around the end of the first round. Instead, the Senators obviously saw a player that could support some of their other high-end talent with his physical brand of hockey, something that didn’t diminish even in a more limited role at BU. At the CHL level he should be able to use that power and strength to find some more space.
- The Senators announced (Twitter link) that they’ve removed goaltender Anton Forsberg from COVID protocol, paving the way for him to rejoin the roster. With Ottawa now off until Monday, that will give him a chance to get a practice or two in and potentially be ready to return against Edmonton. The Sens now have three goalies on the active roster so Matt Murray could potentially return to AHL Belleville to get some more game action in since he hardly played in his first stint with the team.