On Nov. 5, the hockey world was rocked by a massive three-way trade: The Ottawa Senators acquired highly-touted forward Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for goaltender Andrew Hammond, prospect Shane Bowers, and a pair of draft picks. The Senators also sent top-six forward Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators, who in turn sent a pair of prospects and a draft pick to the Avalanche. It was the biggest trade the National Hockey League (NHL) has seen in several years, and though a Duchene trade was inevitable, his destination told the hockey world something about the Senators: They want the Stanley Cup, and they want it now.
Ottawa gave up a huge amount for Duchene. Turris was one of their top scorers and a central piece of the Senators’ forward lines. In fact, the Predators immediately signed Turris to a six-year, $36 million contract extension. While Duchene will likely be a major improvement over Turris, Bowers was Ottawa’s first-round draft pick in 2017, and one of the two picks they sent away was a 2018 first-rounder. Such a move from future assets in pursuit of immediate success means the Senators think they have a serious shot at winning the Cup after their unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, which begs the question of whether they fit into the contender category.
The analytical side of hockey would suggest not. The list of teams considered to be Cup favourites in 2018 includes the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, and Nashville Predators. Several of those teams have one thing in common: A pair of superstars capable of making the whole squad better with their raw talent. These include Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, and Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa. These duos can carry a team to the top of the standings and to the position of Cup contender. St. Louis and Nashville, meanwhile, each collectively have enough skill and depth to score and effectively defend against most opposition.
Ottawa lacks both of these elements. Their top scorers are high-scoring defenceman Erik Karlsson and now, Duchene. While both are very skilled, the combination is not quite on the same level as the aforementioned pairs. Despite some talented forwards in Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Senators have little in terms of scoring from bottom-six forwards. Aside from Karlsson, their defence can be described as average at best. Between the pipes, Craig Anderson is very good at his job, but he isn’t getting any younger and likely won’t be in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy this season.
However, if there is one truly great thing about the NHL, it is its unpredictability. No one expected the Senators to make it to the Conference Finals last season or to challenge the powerhouse Penguins the way they did. Nashville entered the playoffs in the last seat and went all the way to the finals. Each of the teams that were predicted to be in the bottom three before the season currently hold a playoff spot. How a team fares can hinge on player confidence, and the Senators clearly have a now-or-never mentality. Expect them to be making more moves like this throughout the season in an effort to build a team that can truly contend, especially closer to the February trade deadline. Duchene is just the beginning of this season’s push, and the end just might be another Cinderella run, this time to the Stanley Cup Final. After all, it’s the golden rule of hockey: Never count anyone out.