Something happened sometime last week: for the first time since the earliest days of the season, Ottawa’s playoff probability fell below 50%. After having spent the better part of the previous two months between 55% and their season-high 79%, this is the dark side of the coin in this coin-flip of of a season.
We’ve taken to calling Ottawa a bubble team for a good long while now, and that’s still fair. When the season is called, I think Ottawa will find itself just on the outside or just on the inside of the playoff picture, right in the creamy, mediocre middle of the league.
But in addition to thinking “bubble,” I’m also starting to think in terms of “transition” – as in, on a scale between a rebuild and true contention, this is the ideal year to add a key player through, say, the draft.
Before the season began, my biggest concern was whether the team would be able to re-sign upcoming UFAs Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacCarthur, Marc Methot, and Jason Spezza. Could we convince them to stay in Ottawa if the team wasn’t poised to compete?
The first two were re-signed after we put something in their drinking water that made them see New York City when they looked at Ottawa; Methot’s situation will come into stark clarity when he likely returns to the lineup tomorrow night and throws out his back; and, as we all know, Spezza retired a Senator and will never play another NHL game because he was born a Sen and he’ll die a Sen.
For better or worse, the Senators have locked up their core players – and on pretty high value deals, at that – so fans can take a breath and relax in that at least the team won’t take a huge step back in the next couple of years. Senators management can turn their attention to complementing and augmenting the team’s core.
With Methot returning and hopefully re-signing, one hopes the result will be the team outperforming more than just Buffalo on the scale of number of shots allowed. Curtis Lazar will be one year closer to the star that Bryan Murray believes he will be. Mika Zibanejad will be cured of the mumps. (He has mumps, right?) Erik Karlsson will still be in his prime, and Robin Lehner may steal a little bit more of the net away from Craig Anderson. This should be a team looking to compete for the Cup in the next 2-4 years, not necessarily right now.
I’m not ready to take Ottawa’s recent 3-6-1 spin as a sign that all hope is lost. Sure, Ottawa’s had to be pesky and have some of the highest save percentages in the league just to get where they are, but there’s still time to right this ship. And if it doesn’t get righted, then that’s okay too.
Come January, if Ottawa isn’t closer to positive on that playoff probability scale, I think it’s time to start thinking draft. There is no scenario in which Ottawa isn’t more fun to watch and a more competitive team with a very good prospect in the fold, and they aren’t going to lose anybody from the lineup as a result of a losing season. Add to that that the cap may not go up as high as some GMs think because of the sinking Canadian dollar, and Ottawa might be in a position to poach some talent the way the Islanders just did.
I want Ottawa to win as much as the next guy. I want to watch playoff hockey come spring. But thinking of this as a transition year makes the whole prospect of missing out a little bit less painful to consider.
The Kyle Turris and Eric Karlsson cascade effect.. Example: Clarke MacArthur signs with Ottawa cause he knows he’ll be on the first line with Turris and so on.
Maybe I spend too much time on twitter (I do!) but I definitely feel like this post is a breath of fresh air. I hate losing lately but I find I just can’t be as devastated as many people seem to be. The Sens had what we all knew was going to be a very challenging road trip the past week or so. They took a disappointing 3 of 10 points on a trip that featured 2 all-travel back to backs and against a gamut of very challenging teams. The weakest of the bunch being the unfortunately comparable Florida Panthers. Sucks. Also of note: A couple of weeks ago the Sens took 5 of 6 points in a week. To me this is the season I expected. Ups and Downs. Playoff probability will yo-yo as a result of that, especially in the East. Think I’m being optimistic? Well, look how DOOMED the Leafs were what? A week ago? Last night I was listening to the Sens pregame show and they were going over the out of town scoreboard and one of the hosts said, “you gotta hand it to the Leafs they are playing really well lately.” And hey, I agree but funny how stringing together a couple of wins makes a series of blow outs including a 9-2 drubbing at home seem far in the rear view. They were tossing jerseys on the ice. Now they’re back in a playoff spot. It’s almost as if a key element of sports entertainment is that the outcomes are unpredictable.
If you had told me in September that you traveled in time to 1. Kill Hitler 2. Take a look at the standings in the first week of December and told me that without one game of Marc Methot and EK paired with a combination of Chris Phillips and MARK MOTHERFUCKING BOROWIECKI and his 39 games of NHL experience, that the Sens would not only still have more wins than losses and that they were but 3 points out of a Wild Card spot? I’d say that would be better than I’d have expected. Lowered expectations? Maybe. I happen to think the absence of Marc Methot is a key element of their struggles. It might also be recognizing before the season started that this was still a team in transition. further along in that transition w/ locking up Grizz, Ryan, Lehner, Andy, adding Lazar plus another year of development for Ceci, but still a bubble team at best. I think another stumbling block has been the disappointing play of Cowen and Wiercioch. Two players who’ve come nowhere near what to the levels they were projected to be. Anyway, I’ve been into sports for too long to be ready to pack it in with almost 60 games still to play. A lot’s going to happen still. I just wont be devastated if the Sens finish just outside the bubble. This peace I’ve made is possible in large by the way the organization has been drafting mid-round during this middling phase. The last two seasons they have added Ceci and Lazar at 15 and 17 overall. Two guys who’ve appeared best suited to develop at the NHL level. Pretty awesome. I’d take another one of those going forward for sure. Also you never know who’s still to come out of the woodwork from the AHL. I’m willing to bet Bryan Murray has one more slam dunk draft in him.