Senators roster changes appear inevitable, necessary amid loss to Oilers, team’s third straight

The Senators' Claude Giroux (28) reacts after being injured against the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday January 6, 2024. (Jason Franson/CP)

In Ottawa, the focus stopped being about wins and losses some time ago. 

The Senators are the subject of a salvage mission, now. 

With the playoff picture so far beyond their vision as to be a mirage, yesterday’s dream, new management is doing a kind of forensic audit on this roster and its potential. 

Who stays? Who goes? 

And can interim head coach Jacques Martin keep these young players positive through the final three months of the season?

I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll of losing on some of the key members of this rebuild via the draft. 

This will be defenceman Thomas Chabot’s seventh season in Ottawa without a sniff of a playoff appearance.

It will be captain Brady Tkachuk’s sixth season that ends without playoffs. Tkachuk and Chabot have each played 394 NHL games. At some point next season they should reach the halfway point of a 1,000-game career. 

Careers pass quickly. A single season is not to be wasted. 

At this point, with so many of the young stars flagging, can we even know for sure that they all still want to be here?

That’s without considering how they are being rated by the new notetakers. 

The ‘We Believe in the Young Core’ mantra has been trotted out so many times over the past several months it is starting to sound like a religious chant. But in the backrooms and private meetings, are they really that devout when it comes to all those pieces former general manager Pierre Dorion and his scouts put together?

We have to wonder. 

We are also about to find out. 

While GM Steve Staios has said publicly he would like to add a veteran player or two to this group, there is also a theory that he wants to shake things up by trading one or two of the pieces fans expected would be here for years to come. 

There is a practical reason for doing so — this under-achieving roster has zero wiggle room as far as the salary cap. As my colleague Chris Stevenson has said on Senators pre-game shows, the Sens are in the kind of cap hell that a championship-calibre team has to face after winning a Stanley Cup. The only difference — this is not even a playoff team. 

Moving a player with term remaining is not just needed to change things up, it’s necessary to create some flexibility with this roster. 

Making trades involving larger contracts is more difficult during the season, when teams are invested financially, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a deal or two before the deadline and more to come in the off-season. 

Loss to Oilers is third straight

It says a lot when the Senators would lose their third straight on this trip, 3-1 to the Edmonton Oilers and hear interim coach Jacques Martin say: “We’ve got to build on this.”

But here we are. 

There was marked improvement in the team’s play on Saturday night at Rogers Place compared to the earlier losses to Vancouver and Seattle. Ottawa held Edmonton off the scoresheet in the first period and probably should have had a lead, but sticks are being squeezed at this point and the Senators team that was scoring in bunches earlier in the year has just five goals in their past three games. 

“I think the offence is going to come,” Martin said. “We’re maybe pressing a little bit and we’ve got to do a better job at getting to the net and taking away the eyes of the goalies. I think that’s one area we need to focus on.”

Oiler stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were held to a single assist (McDavid’s on Zach Hyman’s third goal) as there was a concerted effort to tighten things up. And still there were misplays and 46 shots allowed on goaltender Anton Forsberg. Forsberg was excellent, stopping 43 of those shots, but that is not a recipe for success on a regular basis. 

Winger Parker Kelly, one of Ottawa’s depth players who has risen in stature since the coaching change, scored the Senators’ lone goal with about five minutes left in the third period. 

That made things interesting, a 2-1 game late in the going, but an iffy interference call against Artem Zub ended any idea of Ottawa heroics. Hyman, via McDavid, struck quickly on that power play and the Oilers had their two-goal lead again, and kept it. 

As per usual, the Senators lost the special teams battle, giving up two power-play goals while going 0-for-3 on their own power play. 

With the loss, the Senators’ road record fell to 4-11-0. Overall they are 14-21-0, seven games under. 500. 

Martin’s record since taking over for D.J. Smith on Dec. 19 versus Arizona is 3-6-0.

Winger Mathieu Joseph is expected to return to the lineup for Tuesday’s game in Calgary. To make room for Joseph, Ottawa sent forwards Angus Crookshank and Jiri Smejkal back to AHL Belleville. 

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.