GARRIOCH: The Ottawa Senators head into the off-season determined to make the next step

“The general consensus from everyone is they want more; they want more from themselves, they want to be part of (playoff) action.”

Article content

Nobody expected more from the Ottawa Senators than they expected from themselves.

advertisement 2

Article content

That’s why there’s little reason to look back and it’s time to glance ahead.

As the Senators gathered at the Canadian Tire Center on Saturday for exit meetings before heading their separate ways for the summer, coaches and players were united in the common goal that they hope they’ll be playing meaningful games down the stretch next season.

Article content

“This is a tough time of year, especially when you don’t make the playoffs. You’re going home so early and you’re watching everybody else play,” head coach DJSmith said. “It was exciting to talk to some of the young guys who’ve taken a step.

“The general consensus from everyone is they want more; they want more from themselves, they want to be part of (playoff) action.”

The Senators missed the National Hockey League playoffs for the fifth straight year after a season derailed by injuries and two battles with COVID-19.

advertisement 3

Article content

“It was frustrating. It was probably the longest season of my career, coaching-wise, when it comes to the COVID-19 situation, from not playing games to a zillion games in a row, the travel and then the injuries,” Smith said.

“It’s been a really long year, but it’s been a learning year. We found a lot of things about our players, what they’re capable of and what some aren’t capable of. It gives us a really good understanding of where we are as an organization, who’s going to be here going forward, and what we need to do to take the next step.”

Make no mistake, the Senators want to make the playoffs next spring, but Captain Brady Tkachuk wouldn’t let himself get boxed into a sound bite when he was asked the same question twice in different fashions.

advertisement 4

Article content

Senators captain Brady Tkachuk says the team needs to focus on playing its best 'day-in and day-out' and good things should come from that.
Senators captain Brady Tkachuk says the team needs to focus on playing its best ‘day-in and day-out’ and good things should come from that. Photo by Errol McGihon /post media

“We’re not going to listen to the external pressures,” Tkachuk said. “We’re just going to focus on day-in and day-out. Every game is important, every two points is valuable. We can’t really focus on the numbers. We have to focus on day-in and day-out to make sure we’re playing the way we want to play.

“That’s going to be the test for us. I think we’re ready for everything that comes our way now, with everything that we’ve been through. Internally, we’re just going to push each other and push ourselves to be as great as we can be.”

The key for the growth of the Senators this season is that the right players carried the load. Led by Tkachuk, the likes of Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Tim Stuetzle, Alex Formenton and alternate captain Thomas Chabot emerged as the club’s top players.

advertisement 5

Article content

“If you’re in a lot of other sports, they’re looking to fill the holes that we’ve got filled with Norris, Tkachuk, Stuetzle, and we need guys to support them,” Smith said. “There’s great pieces here. The supporting cast is the guys who are going to come and help these guys.

“In that area, I think we’re ahead of a lot of teams because our core is there and the guys that are playing all the minutes are young guys and they’re going to be here for a long time.”

General manager Pierre Dorion will speak to the media Sunday. On Saturday, Smith wasn’t about to let himself get drawn into a discussion about the depth chart or what exactly the team needed.

“That’s Pierre’s job. I coach the team and we talk regularly and he knows where I think we need to improve and that will be up to him,” Smith said.

advertisement 6

Article content

Even the most untrained hockey eye can see the Senators would like to add a top-six forward and, perhaps, another blueliner in the off-season, but, less than 24 hours, after the season ends isn’t the time to declare you ‘re going to be in the playoffs next spring.

There’s still more than four months before training camp starts and a lot can happen between now and then. Dorion will be working on trades with the NHL draft set for July 7-8 in Montreal, while free agency will open July 13, plus there will be other teams that experience playoff disappointment.

There are going to be a lot of moving parts here. Smith had nothing but disappointment for those looking for a headline grabbing quote that the Senators would be a playoff team next season.

Advertisement 7

Article content

“You have to see what we do this summer,” Smith said. “It’s not fair to say with what we have now. You’ll have to wait to see what we look like in September, and ask me that question in September and I’ll give you an honest answer.

“But I believe our core group is good enough now; it’s strong enough now. How good are we as a whole when all the pieces are put together with our health and everything else? Like I said, 100 points gets you in (to the playoffs). That’s unprecedented, and at this time we’re not a 100-point team.”

Smith’s point is that the Senators will make changes in the off-season with an eye towards making the next step and the organization is optimistic it can build off the efforts from this season.

[email protected]

advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.

Leave a Comment