Look, I’m not going to rehash all of the ways in which last season truly stank. You know them, I know them…and yet here we are. As I mentioned on the most recent edition of our podcast, Senators fans have proven that truly nothing can keep us away from watching our favorite hockey team. Even a practical guarantee of last place combined with the Assistant GM sexually assaulting a young boy isn’t enough for us to ask, “Books…where are they now?” Just like a broken marriage, Senators fans and Eugene Melnyk are staying together for the kids.
So! What can we expect from our 2019-2020 Ottawa Senators? Let’s just take a look at some of the predictOOOOOH DEAR LORD GOD NO. AW MY GOD.
Well, holy shit, the Senators are going to be bad according to pretty much everyone.
There’s a long string of mediocrity running from about the Oilers to the Blues where the aggregated predictions see about a ten point difference – thanks, parity! – then you have a precipitous drop to the Wings and Kings, and then, below that…you have the Sens. USA Today’s model might have left out an entire stat category by accident, given their prediction for the Senators’ season. (Is that what a team that just doesn’t score a powerplay goal all season long looks like?)
Obviously this is hockey, and these simulations, taken together, represent a huge spread. I guess it’s possible that, say, Moneypuck’s predictions for the Sens come true while, say, Sean Tierny’s predictions of the Kings come true and somehow the Senators find themselves an incredibly inspiring fifth last in the league. Either way, I’m pretty sure that under no circumstances will the Senators be in the playoffs in 2020.
Which is fine! Because they are, at best, in year two of a five year rebuild. Having already laid a foundation of could-be-anything prospects coupled with some really great, toolsy players like Tkachuk, Brannstrom, and Batherson, this is the year for the Senators to add that foundational player in the draft. They have the picks, they have the expiring UFAs, and they have the suck. All they have to do is reach out and take back their destiny by well and truly phoning this season in.
Rookie coach D.J. Smith has his hands full keeping the love of hockey and general will to live going among these youngsters, who will spend the next seven months being ritualistically humiliated and literally beaten half to death by an entire league of older, bigger, more skilled grown men. Here’s hoping he doesn’t pile on by making them bag skate after yet another tough loss in the dog days of February when they’re on a seven game road trip through a section of America on the verge of civil war.
What is there to watch for, then? Here are five things that will keep me interested during what will otherwise be a grueling exercise in self-punishment:
Beat the Leafs
That’s not just going for the applause line. The Leaf’s avail themselves of every loophole the league has yet to close via CBA negotiations, from enormous salary bonuses, to massive analytics departments, to buried salaries and IR lists, to endless, fawning coverage, and now, this year, their window of contention is thoroughly open and all that whining and spending comes down to this.
What better way to salve the wounds of having the worst team in the league than to remind our division rivals every time they play us that they have to scratch and claw for every point against a broke team in the early throes of a rebuild? What better way to remind Leafs fans that they will definitely, definitely lose against the Bruins again than to show them that they can’t even beat the Sens? If we have our way it’ll be yet another year of Leafs fans yearning for their father’s love while he plays with his trains in the basement.
Hail the Duke
The Sens aren’t going to get a lot of respect this season, and in that way they share something with Anthony Duclair, on his fifth franchise at age 23 and only now being re-signed by a team because they like what he brings to the table. The Duke showed some of that good old fashioned spite in the back half of last season, and has already impressed in the pre-season with a gorgeous goal while on the penalty kill (!). Seeing him reach 20 goals again (he did so in his sophomore season in Arizona) would be a treat, as would seeing him prove wrong anyone who’s ever said “I don’t think he knows how to play.” He’s got the talent. Hopefully now he has the chip on his shoulder, too. The Senators just might have found themselves a diamond in the rough or, if not that, someone who embodies the spirit of this rough-and-tumble rebuild.
Reuniting Brown and Batherson
Logan Brown and Drake Batherson kicked the living shit out of the AHL last season. Batherson had 62 points in 59 games, and Brown had 42 points in 56 while generally acting like a bowling ball on skates. Batherson is sticking around through training camp, but Brown was sent back to Belleville to start the season. I don’t fault that decision – Brown didn’t exactly dominate – but bringing him back up when the team hits its first slump or when they inevitably encounter injury, and then pairing him with Batherson, might boost their production while giving us a preview of a pairing for years to come. Brown, at his best, looks like a terrifying power forward. Batherson looks like a Midwesterner on a church group singing tour, but he can score. It’s a match made in heaven.
Does Signing Scott Sabourin Stunt the Development of Another More Worthy Prospect Whose NHL Ice Time Might Contribute To
Just kidding. Nobody cares.
Is Erik Brannstrom the Tea?
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but last year, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion traded Mark Stone, a player Ottawa drafted in the sixth round and developed into a top 10 player in the entire league, for Erik Brannstrom, a rookie without an NHL game under his belt, pretty much straight up, and then said it was one of his proudest moments. No disrespect to Oscar Lindberg, who the Sens already let walk for nothing, or the second round pick, but in that moment Dorion staked his reputation as a GM on the development of this adorable little Swede. The only thing standing between that trade being listed every single year on clickbait “worst trades of all time!” lists right alongside us getting Chara and Spezza for Yashin is for Brannstrom to work out. NO PRESSURE, MY MAN, JUST GO OUT THERE AND HAVE FUN.
He’s like 180 pounds and starts the season paired with consummate veteran but otherwise human pylon Ron Hainsey in a redux of “trading for Phaneuf will be good for Ceci’s development.” My prediction? Look, the kid is going to finish like a -47 no matter what, so may as well have some fun with it. Put him on the first unit power play. Make stretch passes that have like a two percent chance of working out. Break in those skates! Don’t lose your humanity.
I understand it’s ill-advised to put too much stock in these things, and that this entire post has basically been an exercise in preempting getting hurt by expecting the worst, but wouldn’t it be fucking great if Brannstrom ended up as good as Chabot? Dare to dream, children.
Brady Tkachuk is a very likeable young man. Thomas Chabot has the potential to be one of the best players the Sens have ever had. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about that deal the Sharks gave Karlsson. Mark Stone is the perfect hockey player. Alex Formenton is fast? Maybe we’ll get a new jersey next season. Anyway, here’s “Wonderwall.”