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Fantasy Hockey Preview: Ottawa Senators

Despit another tough season in the midst of a rebuild, a handful of Ottawa's young talented players showed big promise last year. Don't sleep on the Senators in your fantasy league.
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Ottawa Senators

Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.

But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.

Here is your fantasy outlook for all 32 teams. The annual Pool Guide is available now and also check out Matt Larkin’s Top 250 Players for the upcoming season.

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2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Ottawa Senators

Last season: The metrics of success for a rebuilding team are much different, so the Senators’ win-loss record was secondary even though it was a mild surprise they didn’t finish last. The more positive takeaway was that they had seven players who scored at least 10 goals and five players who scored at least 30 points, including a trio of young core players in Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, and rookie Tim Stützle finished with 29. Depth on defense and goaltending were issues, but they’re expected to be addressed over time with Thomas Chabot maturing into a team leader, the continuing development of Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker, and the hope that Matt Murray can regain his Cup-winning form after signing to a four-year, $25-million deal.

Last season: The metrics of success for a rebuilding team are much different, so the Senators’ win-loss record was secondary even though it was a mild surprise they didn’t finish last. The more positive takeaway was that they had seven players who scored at least 10 goals and five players who scored at least 30 points, including a trio of young core players in Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, and rookie Tim Stützle finished with 29. Depth on defense and goaltending were issues, but they’re expected to be addressed over time with Thomas Chabot maturing into a team leader, the continuing development of Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker, and the hope that Matt Murray can regain his Cup-winning form after signing to a four-year, $25-million deal.

Best option: Brady Tkachuk, LW

Only four players have recorded over 200 shots on goal in each of the past three seasons, but only one of them has ever finished with 200 shots and 200 hits – yup, it’s Tkachuk. (The other three players: Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid.) In fact, last season was Tkachuk’s second consecutive 200-200 season, and he did it in 15 fewer games. Most players get either 200 shots or 200 hits, but having Tkachuk kills two birds with one stone. He’s a fantasy gem who could easily slip out of the top five rounds but also provide first-round value in roto leagues, and even though he remained unsigned at Pierre Dorion’s own deadline, there’s little panic at the moment.

If there’s one important aspect that prevents Tkachuk from being in the top tier, it’s the lack of goals and assists; he ranks 92nd out of 147 forwards who have scored at least 100 points over the past three seasons – not even in the top half of the league. The upside is he will be surrounded by more talented players, and hopefully he’ll be the end target of their playmaking ability.

Hidden gem: Drake Batherson, RW

Batherson found his way onto the top line with Norris and Tkachuk last season and was on pace for a 25-goal, 50-point season. The third-year pro showed off blazing speed and a good nose for the net, and despite just 99 games of NHL experience, the Sens inked him to a six-year deal worth nearly $30 million. His play was up and down, but when it was up, few players were more dangerous in open ice.

His possession numbers at 5-on-5 were not particularly good, finishing 10th in CF% among Sens forwards, but ranked fourth in xGF% and sixth in CF/60. It indicates that the Sens don’t have the puck very often when Batherson is on the ice, which is unsurprising given his below-average defensive play and the Sens’ general malaise, but it also indicates he’s very good at capitalizing on scoring chances. He was just two points shy of tying Tkachuk for the team lead, and with more experience and more minutes, Batherson could easily post his first 20-goal season of his pro career and has an outside shot at 30 goals.

Goalies:

With all the talent up front and on defense, the most intriguing right now is goaltending, and it all depends on Murray, who ranked as the league’s eighth-worst goalie in 5v5 GSAA and 112th out of 114 goalies over the past two seasons, according to naturalstattrick.com. It’s a huge drop-off from his Cup run in 2016, when he took over late in the regular season and went on an incredible two-season run where he ranked first in save percentage during the season (.925, min. 50 GP) and second in the playoffs (.928, min. 10 GP). 

There could be a myriad of reasons why Murray’s play has gone in the tank – his weak glove is well-documented – but the bottom line is most of his fantasy value has cratered, and playing on a rebuilding team means playing better opponents on most nights. Murray might be one of the few starting goalies who isn’t worth drafting unless categories such as saves – goalies on bad teams face more shots – are valued.

There is hope Murray will improve – can it get any worse? – which is good news for the Sens but still doesn’t give him a lot of upside in fantasy. Dorion was being a little generous talking about Murray’s second-half turnaround because it still involved three losses with at least six goals allowed and one game where he was pulled after the first period. The wins will still be difficult to obtain even if he plays well, and that makes Murray a matchup-dependent starter at best and probably best left on the waiver wire until you need him.

The Sens have a very interesting prospect in Filip Gustavsson, a second-round pick who backstopped Sweden to a silver medal at the 2018 World Juniors and was named the tournament’s top goaltender. He appeared in nine games, making a very strong impression, though he will still have to win the backup job. Goalie depth is something the Sens have in spades and Gustavsson might have late-season fantasy value if he starts gunning for the starting job.

Outlook:

The Sens surprised everyone by making the North Division somewhat interesting and they could surprise again this season with all their talent. The journey probably won’t be smooth but it should be pretty exciting with the amount of talent that they have, and THN’s Pool Guide is projecting six players to score at least 40 points. 

Depth on defense and consistent goaltending will be their biggest challenges, but a standout season from an important player such as Chabot or Murray could still really give the team a big boost. Tkachuk, Stützle and Chabot are the players everyone will be targeting, with Batherson as the sleeper pick, but don’t overlook Norris, their No. 1 center who finished fourth in Calder voting last season but has the lowest average draft position among them in Yahoo leagues. 

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