Always fun to go back to pre-season predictions the day after it all comes to a close. Here are ours.
Basically, we were wrong like everyone, but not AS wrong as hockey writers not affiliated with the Senators. We thought the team would suck, but wouldn’t finish in the lottery range.
What we were most wrong about
Injuries: I really thought that this team would be derailed if it lost any amount of time from Spezza, as at the time they hadn’t traded for a second line center. Add to that Gonchar, Michalek, and Alfredsson probably missing games and I guess I wasn’t wrong about what would have happened to the team, per se. It just never happened. Most shocking, Spezza played 80 out of 82 games. Injuries were a non-factor. We all thought this team’s lack of depth would kill it. Turns out we never had to deal with that.
Rundblad: He wasn’t a factor at all. Which isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have been had Ottawa taken their time and developed his game, but we put way too much emphasis on Rundblad as a key to Ottawa’s puck possession game. He barely played, when he did he was sheltered, and finally he was traded.
Filatov: We kinda, sort of thought he would be a first line player. Yeah, about that…has anyone seen him? Is he still alive? So this is what it feels like to be a Columbus Blue Jackets fan.
MacLean: I thought he was an old-school coach who preached nothing but work ethic and provided little nuance to his system. One season in and I’m not ready to proclaim him a genius of hockey systems – his teams were brutally out-shot all season long, which is strange when you’re playing an uptempo puck possession game – but he was bailed out by Anderson most nights, and he seems to have succeeded in creating a culture around the club. He rallied the team.
What we were right about
Basically just that the team wouldn’t be as bad as people said it would be. Every single Senator had career worst seasons in 2010-2011, and that was unlikely to happen again. In my own words, “Even slight rebounds from Phillips, Kuba, Gonchar, Regin and Foligno, and some decent goaltending – it doesn’t have to be spectacular, just decent – and this team is much better than last year.”
We also said Karlsson would be the face of the franchise and that Cowen would make the big club, but I think everyone was saying that, even in the preseason.
Next year’s prediction
Because it’s never too early to make a prediction about next season, even if it’s the day after your season ends.
I’m feeling extremely positive about this season, but that’s relative to expectations. “House money” is a term you see thrown around these days, and it reinforces the assumption that this team was never expected to be good. Anyone who watched the team closely knew that it was unlikely that they’d be lottery pick-bad. But now a new reality has been established. The Senators are a playoff team, and all expectations are relative to that accomplishment. I don’t think either assumptions – that the team is horrible, or that it’s competitive – are really all that reasonable.
To me, this season was a mirror image of the season before: a lot of unlikely things had to happen for us to get this result, and if you’re a betting person, you’d obviously bet on those unlikely things not happening again.
Here’s what had to go right for this team to basically sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed:
- Karlsson turns in a Norris-worthy season. Is this his natural level of play? He tailed off at the end. Was that regression to the mean or just a young player tiring after a long season and looking to get stronger next year?
- The team wins several games in dramatic fashion, scoring late, and getting timely goals from unlikely sources.
- Full seasons from Spezza, Kuba, Anderson and Gonchar. Mostly full seasons from Alfredsson, and Michalek.
- Michalek plays on pace for about 45 goals for half the season with a just unreal shooting percentage.
- Alfredsson doesn’t regress as a 39 year old, but actually rebounds.
- Ottawa is underestimated by pretty much everyone, and faces a lot of backup goalies, even when they’re in a playoff position.
I guess what I’m saying is that if this team stays exactly the same – Kuba and Alfredsson come back, and the prospects that come in play minor roles – then I would expect to find ourselves a few points lower in the standings. If Alfredsson and Kuba are gone, well, that’s two significant holes in the team.
At the beginning of this year I predicted that the Senators would finish 11th. I’m very happy to be wrong, but part of me looks at this lineup and all the luck we had and thinks that this is still an 11th place team.
Which is my way of saying: get ready for an avalanche of articles about Zach Parise.