After Chris Neil’s big night, we’re wondering: “Who’s next?”
As the Ottawa Senators concluded a touching tribute to Chris Neil last night, a thought ran through my mind: which of the team’s current stars might one day find their number hanging from the rafters of the Future Home Arena of the Sens Once They Move to Lebreton?
For this exercise, I am thinking only of players currently on the roster; the debates about the merits of former players is one for another day.
To my thinking, there are four potential candidates for one of the highest honours in hockey:
If I were to lay odds, Tkachuk would be my current favourite as the most likely to eventually see his number retired. Besides some strong counting stats, Brady has the distinct advantage of being in his fifth full season with the team after making the NHL squad the same year he was drafted. By the end of his current contract, Tkachuk will have already played ten (!) years in the nation’s capital — seven of which as the captain. In recognizing Neil and Chris Phillips, the organization has clearly signaled that loyalty and longevity are two factors that they value. Add in Tkachuk’s charisma and general beloved status and it’s not hard to imagine him being the last Senators to wear number 7.
Chabot has been a very good defenseman on very bad teams for virtually his entire career. Now 26, it wouldn’t be unfair to describe him as a veteran, and at some point it becomes difficult to change popular perception. It’s not Chabot’s fault that the teams around him have been bad, not even Bobby Orr himself was dragging the 2019-2020 Senators to the play-offs, but legacies are forged in the fires of play-off competition. Chabot’s completing his seventh season with the team, and his contract could keep him with the organization for five more. If the Sens’ rebuild bears fruit and they are suddenly regular play-off contenders, then Chabot might have the chance to etch his name into Sens’ lore. For now, though, I think the rearguard is most likely heading for the Ring of Honour.
While I said at the top that Tkachuk was my current betting favourite to have his number retired, Stützle is the only one in this group that I believe has a real chance to make it into the Hall of Fame. Maybe that statement doesn’t immediately make sense, but the important factor to consider here is potential: Tkachuk, for all that he is, will be 24 in September. He’s pretty close to a (very good) finished product. Stützle, meanwhile, just turned 21 and if you draw a chart of his progression it would basically be an arrow straight up at this point. Tkachuk also has a lot of intangible advantages in his case for number retirement that just aren’t as important to the question of the Hall. That said, if Stützle plays his whole career for the Sens, there’s a shot he goes down as the greatest player in the team’s history.
Sanderson is the total wildcard here since we’ve only seen him play 51 games with the Sens, and he’ll be 21 in the summer. He’s also already at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the others when it comes to the question of longevity, and he isn’t ever likely to be a big point producer. Still, there’s no denying that there’s something special about the kid’s game. He came into the league as one of the Sens’ most hyped prospects in my memory and he’s come close to living up to the nearly impossible expectations. If he keeps playing at this level for a good long while, he might yet do enough to earn the honour of being the last 85 in Sens’ history (apologies to Vitaly Abramov)