It’s time for our end of season wrap-up. Thanks to everyone for reading this season; it was a great one. Make sure to follow us on Twitter, where James routinely kills it, and come back during the summer, when this blog converts back into a blog about devil sticks.
It really was the best of times
Varada: Preseason predictions, including my own, had the Sens as a bubble team at best. And I guess they were a bubble team, but on the right side of 8th place, and with their playoff probability well above 80% all season long. We got great looks at Silfverberg, Zibanejad, and Wiercioch, had some pleasant surprises in Pageau and the trade for Conacher, and enjoyed a number of improbable comebacks and gutsy wins. And, of course, they won a playoff round for the first time in six years. How could you call this season anything other than a success?
James: I think the biggest plus I take out of this season (and I truly feel there were many) is that though many players very green, this team has depth that can get the job done. I say this is my biggest takeaway because just a few short years ago plugging a Binghamton player or two into the lineup even for a short period of time was to see a different team. Ottawa’s always had good players but if they went down the team would suffer greatly. Do you have any substantial memories of Cody Bass or Roman Wick? The Ottawa Senators actually had a more successful season than the previous without Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and largely Craig Anderson and Milan Michalek. Of course I’d have preferred full seasons from these stars but if 7th seed post season birth from a bunch of rookies and old men isnt team development I dont know what is. Cant wait to see the star players combine with the capable reinforcements. I dont know if there’s ever been a more exciting time to be an Ottawa Senators fan.
Gonchar is going to be a decision
Varada: He was a bit of a revelation this year, even if 27 points in 45 games and unspectacular possession stats still aren’t worth $5.5MM a year. But you don’t find a player with 19 seasons of NHL experience under his belt every day, and that experience probably went a long way when the team needed stability and leadership while weathering injuries. Looking at the Sens’ lineup, I don’t see someone who will step in and play 20+ minutes a night. MacLean seems to have thought the same, praising Gonchar in his post-season presser.
I think at this point nobody would be particularly torn up to see Melnyk’s money go back into Serge’s bank account. At the same time, do you remember Kuba? Solid stats, steady partner for Karlsson, a bit older, lots of experience, cup ring…and Florida gave him $4MM a year for two years. My point being, somebody is going to overpay for Gonchar, and if it’s Ottawa I guess that’s ok–but it will still be overpayment.
James: I agree with your points and think Gonchar had a very good season for Ottawa. When it comes to resigning Gonchar the decision to let him walk is an easy one for me. It’s not an indictment of his play. You’re right about all those things. A calmness with the puck that just cannot be taught, solid point production, raised his game unexpectedly: Hey, mind filling in indefinitely for a guy who plays up to 30 mins a night and is the defending Norris winner? THX BRO! Guy was instrumental in salvaging the season. That said, he is 39 years old. I thought he played a lot younger than that… well until about the post season. And hey that’s cool. Some of the young guys looked old against the Penguins. I just think its going to take 2 years to resign Gonchar and I don’t think Ottawa should do that. It’s not the money its the time. If Murray can convince him to sign for 1 year, yeah do it. Two? I’m going to take names of people who argue me and come back to them when we’re watching a 41 year old Sergei Gonchar play an 82 game season on the youngest team in the NHL..
It’s clear Karlsson has a steady partner now in Marc Methot who I thought was the best, most consistent defenseman all season for Ottawa. I think we’re all a bit down on Jared Cowen right now but he looked so normal out there that we quickly forgot how rusty he probably was. The guy hadnt played NHL hockey in nearly a calendar year when he came back. For me, I trust Cowen can take on second pairing minutes. Next Patrick Wiercioch. His game is not perfect but thrust into 42 games thanks to injury, Wiercioch, a rookie, was the second highest scoring defenseman on the team and finished a team high +9. All that at a paltry 15 minutes a game. The kid has some ability. Below that, guys like Benoit and Gryba (who played first pairing a lot this season LOL) have shown they can play at the NHL level and there’s always the emerging Boroweicki to consider. Notice I havent even mentioned Phillips yet who had his best season in years. Is Cowen – Wiercioch a viable second pairing? Obviously I’m not sure but this is still a rebuild and this season’s injury troubles showed me you actually can hand the keys over to the kids to an extent. I’ll take having a first pairing of a Norris winner and a fast, strong and physical shutdown beast and let MacLean play around with the rest over signing a very good 39 year old to term. If that doesnt cut the mustard, trade a little of that depth for a top 4 d man. With Karlsson – Methot we don’t even need an elite guy. Grow Sens Grow.
Ottawa’s depth isn’t even truly appreciated yet
Varada: As much fun as it was to watch Ottawa’s young guns this year, remember that they still have three first round picks–Noesen, Puempel, and Ceci–who have yet to play an NHL game. You’ve got Stone on the cusp of breaking into the NHL, and others, like Hoffman and Shane Prince, making strong cases for themselves. Lehner is cutting the brakes on Anderson’s car right now. Who knows what other hidden, Pageau-like gems are in the system. Ottawa might lose some veterans next season, but there’s a version of this team that’s two or three seasons away that is going to blow the doors off the league.
Add to that a Norris trophy winning defenceman, a (probably) Jack Adams winning coach, a great development team in Luke Richardson’s B-ham Sens, and the fact that the contenders in the East are entering their twilight years of contention, and this team’s best years are ahead.
James: A huge, huge thing for me was seeing Robin Lehner get tossed into a second round playoff game and make some huge stops against some Elite shooters. Lehner went in ice cold and did not look scared in the slightest out there. Maybe the pressure was off because the team was losing so badly but I think it would be assholish of me to assume the pressure is ever off playing the no.1 seeded team in the playoffs. Ice water in those veins. J/K you have to have a heart to have veins. I’m not trying to say anything extreme here like make him no. 1 or anything. That’s just amazing experience right there. I’m one for preaching patience with developing goaltenders but I must admit watching his dominance in Binghamton and composure during his call up that the 21 year old Lehner is way, way ahead of the curve.
I can’t move on from this topic without talking about Jean Gabriel Pageau. Look, I called the shit out of this from the get go but we’re not going to talk about that too much *brushes diamonds off platinum shoulder* We’ve seen breakout late season performances (Bobby Butlah) and unexpected playoff dominance (Peter Regin) but this one feels different. I’m not going to overdo it but with all the quality prospects Ottawa has I was waiting for a kid to come out of the woodwork and put up an undeniable performance. Pageau has been that so far. There were points in the PLAYOFFS where he looked like the most complete player on the team. Not bad for a guy with 9 NHL games under his belt going into the post season. I think he’s a lock to to make the team next year. With a coach who rewards quality of play the way P Mac does, what line he lands on will be squarely up to Pageau.
Lastly, as far as development goes, I actually think it’s good for the young guys on the team to experience overcoming the struggle of a season filled with adversity, the glory of a dominant playoff win and then a pretty thorough ass kicking at the hands of the best team in their conference. Over the past two seasons there’s been a lot of fast tracking of experience. Consider that as of this writing Jakob Silfverberg has played only 4 fewer playoff games than Rick Nash. No. 3 overall Kyle Turris, has now played 21 more than the entire Edmonton Oilers’ top five in scoring. Unfair stat? Whatever fun is fun.
Several great looking young players are solidifying their sports in the lineup and there are more potential prospects than spots on a roster. Some smart moves and patience could turn this into a very, very dangerous team quickly.
We’re a year closer to the heritage jersey being made our primary jersey
Varada: For real. This has to happen. Death to the 3-D head.
James: Yo. I’d like to remind everyone out there that IM ONLY FUCKIN WITH HOT SHIT. How are so many people still rocking that Senagoth jersey? The Heritage is the nicest jersey since the original one. OH SURPRISE, SURPRISE Fan designed and brought to prominence by a fan petition. Open your wallets and show that the other jersey’s theyve tried to push on us stink. Just dive in. What a Karlsson uni isnt as safe a bet as an Alfie at this point? You leave the organization to their own devices and you get the SNES. You know what id like to see more than anything?
Image courtesy of Le Collectif
Twasnt broke, twidn’t need fixing.