The Senators remain stuck in hockey purgatory — not quite good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a coveted Top 5 draft pick.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 7th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 55-1
Key additions: Derick Brassard, C; Chris Kelly, C
Key departures: Mika Zibanejad, C; Chris Phillips, D; Alex Chiasson, RW; Patrick Wiercioch, D; Mark Fraser, D
-Can Bobby Ryan find his consistency? There’s weird mojo going on with Ryan in March and April. The past two seasons, he has scored just once in his final 20 games. The year before that? Four times. For a big-money player on a team searching for offense, that can’t happen again. Whether it’s conditioning or something mental, Ryan has yet to figure out a way to play productively through 82 games. Prove us wrong, Bobby. Your team may depend on it.
-Which Craig Anderson will show up? The good one. Anderson has played well every other season during his tenure in Ottawa. Oddly, he has been more effective in campaigns cut short by injury – but no one wishes that on him. Last year, his numbers were pedestrian, and the Senators missed the playoffs. But the past two times he has been on, they’ve made the dance. Luckily for Ottawa, the 35-year-old goalkeeper is due. And right now there’s no obvious guy to push him, so the Senators need Anderson more than ever.
-Can this defense corps survive? While Erik Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in the league, he presides over a porous blueline corps (a charge of which he is not immune himself). No team surrendered more shots against than Ottawa in 2015-16, while the Senators also posted the second-worst penalty kill overall. New coach Guy Boucher is known as a defensive man, and while he may not have the ideal personnel, he can at least coax a little improvement out of the unit. Dion Phaneuf will be the key. If the veteran can play within himself, it will go a long way in shoring up that back-end corps.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
In an Ottawa Sun story back in August, GM Pierre Dorion said “there’s no doubt in my mind that I think we’re a playoff team.” Chances are he’ll be wrong in April.
THN picked the Senators to finish 7th while this model is a tad more optimistic, picking them for 5th in the division, just outside the playoff bubble. Either way, you’re looking at a non-playoff team and one that could genuinely find themselves in the bottom five if a lot of things go wrong.
It starts on the back-end where, despite having the league’s best defenseman, the team is 20th overall at the position. Karlsson probably regresses a bit himself after last year’s incredible effort, but he’s still the league’s best and he’s the biggest reason the Sens even have playoff aspirations.
It’s the five guys in the lineup after Erik Karlsson – worth -0.2 wins combined – that are the issue (although, like previous projections for defensive stalwarts, it’s likely Marc Methot gets a bit underrated here). That absence of ‘D’ depth is one of the worst in the league.
At forward it’s a similar story where the top six is quite solid, led by Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman while the bottom of the roster is anything but, highlighted by four guys who provide negative value. The return of Clarke MacArthur should provide a boost for the team as the underrated forward’s talent was sorely missed last year. Bobby Ryan is an interesting name here because he’s pretty far down the list of forwards (on a subpar team too) for a guy with a $7.25 million cap hit. He needs to be better.
The goaltending is solid, albeit unremarkable. They should be able to keep the team in games, but they’ll have their work cut out for them with the large quantity of shots allowed thanks to the leaky D-corps.
The Ottawa Senators are not a good team, there’s not much denying it. With the talent on the other teams in the division and the rebuilding teams on the rise, it’s not surprising we have them 7th. But Karlsson truly is the great equalizer here. It’ll be very difficult for the team to be that bad with someone that good. It’s possible, but the likeliest scenario according to this model is that the team flirts with a playoff berth just enough to land in the purgatory between April hockey and a Top 5 prospect.
Up next: Carolina Hurricanes
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils