Roundtable of Death: Here We Go Again Edition

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H/t to the god @slowhnds

Luke: The thing about being the only bloggers who haven’t joined The Athletic is that we’ve had to keep our “real” jobs, so I feel like the hockey season may have sneaked up on us a bit.

I barely even noticed that the season was starting until I was suddenly inundated with articles and tweets about how Ottawa is a sure lock to miss the playoffs. You have been able to set your watch to those things for the past few years.

Here’s where the team stands:

  • No fun or interesting off-season additions to the team, unless you count Nate Thompson, which I don’t because he is neither fun nor interesting.
  • Erik Karlsson will not start the season due to his ongoing recovery from ankle surgery.
  • Derick Brassard will start the season, but is also still recovering from shoulder surgery.
  • Colin White, the prospect we were most excited about, got hurt in his first pre-season game and is on the IR.
  • Logan Brown has made the team and is now the prospect we’re most excited about.
  • Alex Formenton is on the team, even though he’s only 18 and there’s absolutely no way Guy Boucher trusts him enough to give him the keys to the Ford Mustang.
  • Thomas Chabot is starting the season in Belleville even though he was the best defenseman in camp who was also a -5 in the last pre-season game.

Besides that, there have been no interesting story lines to discuss.

I guess the over-arching question to the season is this: When will the Senators announce Duchene?

Just kidding. The question is actually this: Last year, Guy Boucher came into Ottawa with a mandate to make the playoffs. He, and the team, delivered. Can they do it again?

What do you think?

Andrew: Starting to feel like Cody Ceci is going to be a Senator for a long time and the video tribute I’m imagining for when he inevitably returns with the Colorado Avalanche or Arizona Coyotes or Winnipeg Jets or some such poorly run franchise is 2 minutes long but features zero highlights.

James: We’ll you don’t come second in your division, come within a goal of the Cup Final and then keep the team that gave you the club’s most successful season in a decade together as best you can without making a few enemies.

I certainly don’t LIKE how the Sens are forced to start the season already coming off a season of NUFF adversity but here we are. I have to admit it’s a little funny to me how the goalposts of how fucked we are keep moving despite some positive news items. I’m yet to come across anyone in the wild rejoicing in the fact that Brassard’s status went from missing weeks to a 50/50 chance he can play in the season opener or failing that back within the first couple of games. More importantly Karlsson’s status went from missing the entire month of the season to saying that he “Probably” wont be able to play opening night. Um, I’ll take that kind of update. Karlsson missed 5 games last season and the team made the playoffs hopefully he again misses under 10 here. But if he misses the first, say, 5 games I’ll take that over the first month plus. I can’t predict the future but it sounds like he’s closer than initially reported, don’t @ me no matter what happens. Thxu.

The Chabot thing is, of course, disappointing to us all, yes, but because he’s not starting the year in Ottawa in no way tells me we won’t see him this year. We all know the coach likes to play it safe defensively and Chabot plays as high risk a position as they come. Judging by comments Boucher has made publicly, it sounds like he really likes Chabot but simply doesn’t want to welcome him to the NHL under this kind of pressure (i.e. without Karlsson to insulate the entire D corps). My thoughts have already been shared on the delicate dance twixt the sun of “DON’T RUSH HIM YOU’RE RUINING HIM” and the moon of “WHY DOES BOUCHER LIKE BOROWIECKI MORE THAN CHABOT!” [Ed. Note: Why does he tho?] changing depending on what management does with him. One thing I do know is that a little time in AHL will not hurt Chabot. Will playing more established less talented players while weathering a Karlssonless lineup hurt the team? I hope not.

More concerning to me on defense is that on top of being missing Karlsson the Sens are missing Methot…poi-ma-nent-ly. Lot of pressure on Phaneuf, Oduya and Claesson to fill that void. “So, who will provide the offense from the back end then, dumbass?” Well I’m glad you asked. Since Ceci was traded for Matt Duchene earlier today, the only item of intrigue I can find is that since Chris Wideman is in a contract year and as an undersized guy with prospects like Harpur, Jaros, Englund and of course MACOY ERKAMPS knocking at the door, there’s a ton of pressure on him to keep his job/get a new job this season. Hoping he does numbers to get numbers. LOL, remember when Chris Wideman was the new hottness, shit changes quick. MOVING FORWARD…

It’s pretty exciting to see a bit of young blood up front to start the year. Doesn’t sound like Brassard will miss much time so Logan Brown will have to make an impression early and often. Now go out there kid and HAVE FUN making an impression both early and often! (Seriously, start your career as an impact 2nd line centre or I’ll frame you for murder.) Alex Formenton looked great in the preseason…which is nice! Another thing: I am well aware it is impossible to be excited about Nate Thompson, the fact is Boucher trusted the fourth line so little last year that he barely played them. Have to think that with Kelly and Neil out, a Formenton – Thompson – Burrows 4th line will at least get ice time.

Sure, other than Duchene for Ceci straight up, there were hardly any moves this off season but I don’t know why that hurts a team that just stormed through a few rounds of the playoffs. Considering these guys are used to Boucher’s system, an improved 4th line and Anderson not having to miss half the damn season, I don’t know why these guys are a lock to miss the playoffs. Still, there are a lot of things up in the air. Is Playoff Bobbito Ryan the Real Bobbito Ryan? Will Karl and Brass miss a few games or a month? Etc. The first month is really sketchy and important for us (a GREAT combo!) and I praise Jah every day that the early schedule is filled with Tomato cans. Unpopular opinion but after what I saw this team do last year in a really challenging season chalk this one up to “I aint never scared you aint never there.” It will be stressful AF but yes the Sens can make the playoffs.

Varada: Here’s the interesting thing about last year’s Ottawa Senators: they should have been absolutely stuck in the mud. Their possession numbers weren’t very good, nor was their PDO, so they weren’t purely lucky. They didn’t score many goals. (23rd in GPG.) They had one of the worst defensive pairings in the league playing big shutdown minutes in Phaneuf and Ceci. Key forward Bobby Ryan had a putrid year. Clarke MacArthur was out almost all season. They didn’t have depth until some late season trades. They were not, on paper, good.

So how did they do it? Yes, Karlsson is a god who accounted for a huge segment of the team’s offense. But, more to the point for me is that Craig Anderson was very good in a league where a good goaltender is everything. He was 7th in the league in save percentage among goaltenders with more than 20 games, and Ottawa won quite a few one-goal games. That is, as they say in hockey, the ball game. They landed four points above the playoff cutoff.

Now, in the off-season they lost Methot and learned that MacArthur would be out indefinitely again. So, again, they are starting from a position of weakness. But the question remains: can Craig Anderson play at or near the level he did last year? Sure, we can talk about players like Stone and Hoffman taking another step, or the theoretical contributions of rookies, or a bounce-back year from Ryan, or having Burrows for a full season. All of these, to me, would be incremental contributions to the team’s competitiveness. But Anderson is the key. If he can play, this is a playoff team. If he regresses, even to league average, then Ottawa might find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. I think those picking Ottawa to miss the playoffs seem amplified and provocative because of Ottawa’s run last year, but really all they’re saying is that Ottawa looks about the same as they did last year. That seems fair to me.

Another key: how does the rest of the division look? This is where I think Ottawa’s critics may have overstated the case for Ottawa’s dire state.

  • Montreal: yup, they’re good. Best goaltender in hockey and lots of depth throughout. But let’s not act like they aren’t a Carey Price ankle injury away from AL MONTOYA being their starter. Also, you can’t act like adding Drouin and Hemsky is world changing if you don’t ding Tampa and Dallas for losing them, which nobody is doing.
  • Boston: also good, especially that first line. But Chara is 40, Torey Krug is on injured reserve, and the rest of that defensive corps is a mix of unspectacular reliability and young promise.
  • Toronto: this is the same team as last year plus 38-year old Patrick Marleau and 36-year old Ron Hainsey. Last year they took the last wild card spot. They’ll probably be improved given the development of young players, but acting like they’re Cup favorites all of a sudden is bananas.
  • Tampa Bay: good team, but I don’t see how they’re improved. They lost Drouin, added 38-year old Chris Kunitz and the absolutely brutal Dan Girardi. Their starting goaltender is 23 and their backup is PETER BUDAJ. How people are penciling these guys in as Cup contenders is beyond me.
  • Florida: hahahahahahahahahahahaha
  • Detroit: see “Florida.” They’re the same team as last year except they just signed DAVID BOOTH. Did you know this team still pays Stephen Weiss?
  • Buffalo: they fired everybody who used to run the team at Jack Eichel’s request then gave Jack Eichel $80 million not to demand a trade. I hope Jack Eichel scores 700 goals this season.

Man, don’t tell me that that is the super-intimidating group that every hockey analyst is looking at and saying Ottawa can’t hang with. I’m not saying Ottawa is the best team in the league, or even in their division, but Craig Anderson, a little PDO fairy dust, and one or two of that group of basket cases playing the way they did last year is all it’s going to take for Ottawa to make the playoffs again.

Andrew: Varada speaks the truth. Last summer I wrote about the Atlantic division being crap and how that was a good thing for the Sens and not that much has changed. Yeah, Montreal made a splash, but turns out Shea Weber still isn’t P.K. Subban and sure they added Drouin but lost Radulov etc etc. Luke and I have talked a lot about how everything went perfect for the Leafs last season and a) they were the 8th seed and lost in the first round b) that….never happens? They are almost surely not going to have everything go perfectly this season, plus they have the weight of expectations now, and Toronto media is just bursting to explode. The Bruins are crap and old and thin, Detroit is abysmal and has cap issues, Florida? Whatever. Tampa will be good if healthy, Buffalo’s collection of shitty dudes should make them not so bad, but really, the Metro is a much harder division, so let’s not buy into any crap about the relative strength of the Atlantic.

Here’s the most likely scenario for the Sens, at least as I see it: they’re actually a better team this season, but don’t go as far in the playoffs. Why? Because they did really really well last season and success is hard to replicate. I pretty much always bet against a team making the conference finals in back to back years because…it’s really hard and there are 30 other teams. In high school I had friends who had an annual Stanley Cup bet. She would bet that the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup (they were at least a good team when I was in high school….I’m old) and he would bet….that they wouldn’t? And while this represented a rare glimpse of intelligence on his part (dude once ate a vat of mustard for $2 and then was sick for 3 days), it’s a pretty good idea to always bet against any one team when your options include all the other teams. So, while I’ll be pumped to be proven wrong, it’s just unlikely the Sens are a goal away from a Final against Pekka Rinne quality goaltending.

But I do think they’ll be better this season. We sort of forget that the first couple of months of The System were rough. But now the Sens know The System, so I think they’re better position to weather storms if Brass is maybe not 100% to start the season and EK might miss a few games. As with any season, the Sens go as far as Mike Condon err Erik Karlsson takes them. And that’s actually cool? Erik Karlsson was the best player in the league through 3 rounds in a playoffs that featured McDavid and Crosby and he was doing it through a pretty severe injury. That’s not to glorify injury, but holy hell if he was healthy they would have won. I think about this a lot and it makes me sad. Anyway, I have faith in both his recovery abilities and his commitment to rehabbing injuries, so he’s gonna perform at shoe-in-Norris level only to be denied by some by some campaign for Ron Hainsey shit by hacks like Pierre LeBrun. It’s cool, EK moved on when Keith won his second Norris.

This also feels like a pretty good time for Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone to have career years and hit 30 goals. It’s totally doable. Maybe Johnny Oduya won’t be as bad as Mark Borowiecki (which is the minimum a defender must do). At some point, Chabot is going to get called up and then never visit an AHL rink again, so it’s cool. Logan Brown feels like someone I’m very interested in watching for 9 games but will be replaced with Colin White whenever he’s physically ready. In conclusion, I’m not really worried about a forward group that no longer includes Chris Neil.

Regardless of how this season pans out, we’re switching to the O logo at the end season, so we all win in the end.

Luke: It seems strange on the face of it, but all last year’s success did was further convince us that winning is a fragile and many-splendoured thing like a butterfly made of tissue paper that alights on a Faberge egg. People act like the Penguins’ journey to last year’s Cup repeat was a foregone conclusion, but lest we forget, if Viktor Stalberg actually breaks up the pass he gets his stick on and goes the other way, he’s a hero and I’m wearing a commemorative Ottawa Senators 2017 Stanley Cup Champions bomber jacket right now. Enjoy Switzerland, Viktor.

I guess this is what the manifestation of parity in hockey is. The spread of team possession stats has tightened up league-wide, and now success and failure is largely dictated by goaltending and shooting percentage and other such “random” quantities. As such, Ottawa’s got Top 5 or Top 18 goaltending, depending on who you ask, and some truly talented shooters in Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Kyle Turris, and a single transcendent generational talent in Erik Karlsson, and really that’s going to be good enough to get close most years. Better depth, a full season of Craig Anderson, and Erik Karlsson playing at or near 100% for the majority of the season should push them over the top of last year’s high water mark. It seems eminently reasonable. On the other end of the spectrum, the team might forget how The System works, Craig Anderson might implode, and injuries may hang over the team like a miasma and we’ll have to deal with a lot of smug pundits telling us “I told you so”. This is also a scenario that can’t be rejected out of hand. Hockey is great. I love it. I wish it was MORE random, actually.

The one wild card that no one is talking about this year is special teams. The Senators had a decent penalty kill and a terrible powerplay (for the 17th year in a row) last season and noticeable improvement in either of those areas could go a long way in insulating the team from regression. By this point, an above-average Senators powerplay is about as timely as a long-term solution to the Eurozone debt crisis, but hope springs eternal that this is the year someone comes up with a cogent zone entry plan beyond “get the rock to Karlsson and get out of the way.”

I will close by saying how nice it is to have some prospects in the lineup that are actually worth getting excited about. Logan Brown is going to start his first NHL game tonight, and Alex Formenton beat out several more established players to get his roster spot. On top of this, the team isn’t really counting on them to be difference makers right out of the gate, and instead is hoping that they’ll augment an already solid roster. A Logan Brown or a Colin White or a Thomas Chabot putting up a decent 40 point rookie season could be a stealth difference maker this year, rather than a necessary one.

I’ve talked myself into it: the Sens are a playoff team unless something happens to Erik Karlsson or Craig Anderson. There are too many ways for them to improve.

Time to get a big ol’ dose of Vitamin W. (That means win the game.)

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