Since their run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, the Ottawa Senators have missed out on the playoffs in six straight seasons, but could this be the year they get back into the postseason?
The Sens missed out by six points last term. That's just three wins over an 82-game season.
But, when you consider they play in the stacked Atlantic Division it can be considered a promising result.
Also promising is that they posted their first winning season since that 2017 playoff run, and continuing that trend of improvement will likely be a bigger focus than earning a postseason berth considering the scale of task they are likely to face if they get that far.
|What||2023/24 NHL Season|
|Where||US & Canada|
|When||October 10, 2023 - June 2024|
|How to watch||Sportsnet, TVA, RSN & NHL Centre Ice|
|Odds||TOR Maple Leafs +800, COL Avalanche +850, EDM Oilers +900, NJ Devils +1000|
The Senators finished sixth in the red-hot Atlantic Division behind record-breaking Presidents Trophy winners Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Stanley Cup finalists Florida and Buffalo.
They finished six points shy of earning a wildcard spot, but sixth is their highest finishing position since 2017 and their tally of 86 points was 13 more than they collected in 2021/22.
Improved offense was a significant factor, as Ottawa scored 34 more goals than the previous season, while allowing five more.
Booking a ticket for the playoff dance is not going to be easy in such a stacked division, but with the Atlantic's big four having lost some significant pieces in the offseason, there could be opportunities for the improving Sens to pick up more points in their divisional matchups.
The same goes for Buffalo Sabres, who are likely to be Ottawa's main rivals for a playoff berth should one become available, and those matches between two young and hungry teams will be games to savor.
The Sens weren't able to reach a deal to keep Alex DeBrincat, who returned to his home state by joining the Detroit Red Wings, but his place on the top-line right wing is taken by Valdimir Tarasenko.
That has the potential to be an improvement, but they will need to pray he stays healthy as the Russian has played more than 40 games in only one of the last five seasons.
Tarasenko did feature in the playoffs for New York Rangers last year, though, scoring three goals in seven games.
A line with him, dynamic captain Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle coming off a 90-point season can strike fear into even the NHL's stoutest defenses.
Beyond them, though, the offense lacks depth, while defense is an area that needs improving.
A healthy season from Jakob Chychrun, who was lost to injury after only 12 games last term, will help address that. They also need another big season from Claude Giroux, the Sens' third-top points scorer last season who played all 82 games and enters 2023/24 at 35-years-old.
They are also potentially better off having signed goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who finished last season with the Los Angeles Kings after the best of his eight NHL seasons in Columbus.
Having played as part of a tandem for his whole career, Korpisalo could find himself as the main starter in Ottawa. His team needs him to make the most of that opportunity.
Ottawa are rated +3300 chances to lift the Stanley Cup, putting them in the middle of the pack in the odds.
A best-case realistic scenario sees them ending their six-year exile from the playoffs, and they are +110 to make it while being -140 not to.
The Sens are set a regular-season points line of 91.5, which is six more than they achieved last season but a mark that management will certainly be expecting them to eclipse given their top-end talent.
New goalie Korpisalo has been set a line of 25.5 regular-season wins. The Finn's previous best is 19 in 2019/20, but he is likely to get a lot more games with the Senators.
Captain and left winger Brady Tkachuk is +12500 to win the Hart Trophy for the league's most valuable player, while right winger and new addition Vladimir Tasarenko is +20000 to win it.
Head coach D.J. Smith has the joint-12th-shortest odds to win the Jack Adams Award for the league's best coach at +1600.
Defencemen Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson are +7500 and +10000 to win the Norris Trophy for the league's top defenceman.
The Senators travel to Raleigh for a tough opening matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 11, before their home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers in a Saturday matinee three days later.
Ottawa host the Sabres for the first of their potentially crunch clashes on October 24, and Buffalo are back in Canada on New Years' Eve.
December also sees two new chapters in the Battle of Ontario, with the Maple Leafs heading to the Foundation on the 7th and the Sens travelling to Toronto on the 27th.
D. J. Smith has been behind the Ottawa bench since 2019, having resigned from his position as Toronto's assistant coach following the 2018/19 season.
The Windsor, Ontario native spent the first 10 years of his coaching career in the Ontario Hockey League following his retirement from playing in 2005. He began with the Windsor Spitfires before moving to the Oshawa Generals in 2012.
After signing a three-year contract with Ottawa in May 2019, Smith earned a two-year extension which expires at the end of this season, with a club option for 2024/25.
Vladimir Tarasenko (F) NY Rangers
Dominik Kubalik (F) Detroit
Zack MacEwen (F) Los Angeles
Joonas Korpisalo (G) Los Angeles
Alex DeBrincat (F) Detroit
Cam Talbot (G) Los Angeles