Considering the Ottawa Senators skated into the history books with their magical run to the playoffs last season it’s hard to be too critical about their play. But even in a season when they found a way to get to the post-season, it wasn’t all positive in Ottawa. Many players flat-out underachieved or failed to live up to expectations. Below are the players who, more than anyone else, need to come up big in 2015-16.
After “coming in hot” two years ago, Ryan has been anything but during his time in Ottawa. Brought in to replace fan-favourite Daniel Alfredsson who left town for the Detroit Red Wings, Ryan (48 points) was actually outscored in 2013-14 by the elder Alfredsson who put up 49 points. He only marginally improved upon that 48-point campaign in 2014-15 when he put up 54 points. Chalk it up to the adjustment that comes with the move to a new city, or a lack of consistency in terms of linemates, but there’s no sugar coating the fact Ryan hasn’t been nearly as productive as he was with the Anaheim Ducks. In his defence, injuries have impeded Ryan’s ability at times, but even when healthy he has looked out of place. The pressure is only going to get amped up even more now that his seven-year, $50.75 million contract kicks in.
Coming to the Sens on the heels of a 13-goal, 35-point rookie campaign with the Dallas Stars a year prior, expectations were high for the 24-year-old. Early on he was just as advertised – picking up 15 points in 27 games – but eventually succumbed to the pressure that comes with replacing a player like Jason Spezza (whom Chiasson was traded for). In the final 49 games of the season Chiasson was almost invisible, managing just 11 points at a time when most everyone on the team was contributing to the Sens’ historic playoff run. Despite his rocky first season with the Sens, Chiasson and his camp went into arbitration this summer asking for $2.475 million (matching the contracts of Chris Kreider and Tommy Wingels). If he truly believes he’s worthy of a contract carrying that cap hit, there’s no time like the present to show it.
Having spent the previous four seasons in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators, Hoffman finally landed a full-time NHL gig as a 24-year-old last season with Ottawa. He proved the wait was well worth it, racking up 27 goals – 26 at even strength – to go along with 21 assists in 79 games. Consistency was one of his strengths for much of the season, but just as the playoff race heated up and the Sens were chasing a playoff spot, Hoffman disappeared: He had just three goals and six points in Ottawa’s final 18 regular season games. Still, Hoffman went into arbitration seeking $3.4 million – much more than the $2 million he was eventually awarded – a figure that would have paid him more than, among others, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. While he looks to be a key piece of the Sens’ offence going forward, he needs to prove he can produce when it counts before signing that type of contract.
With Eric Gryba gone (thanks to a trade with the Edmonton Oilers) and competition on the back end looking relatively thin, the door couldn’t be any more wide open for Cowen to take the vacant spot on the second defensive pairing this season. If he has any hope of re-claiming that role with the team he’ll first have to clean up his defensive game. Among Senators with at least 200 minutes played last season, Cowen ranked 18th out of 23 skaters with a Corsi For percentage of 48.2 (meaning the opposition had the puck more than the Sens did when he was on the ice), coupled with a minus-11 rating. That he started 35.3 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone – compared to 29.2 in the offensive zone – likely didn’t help, but more often than not it was Cowen’s own doing that saw him land in the coaching staff’s doghouse. The opportunity is there for Cowen to be a top-four defenceman – the only question is whether or not he will take it.