Echoes of “IT’S A TRAP!” rang through NHL arenas this season, following the Ottawa Senators from city to city. The cries were largely unheeded; Ottawa managed to finish second in the Atlantic Division and slowly choke the life out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, eliminating both the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final.
Consistent with the team’s style of play, the Senators were the only playoff team to finish with a negative goal differential (minus-2). Ottawa had the lowest point total of the East’s playoff teams, and even the Rangers, who were technically a wild card, had more points than the Senators in the regular season.
Head coach Guy Boucher was obviously proud of the season he and his team put together, but is the pride a harbinger of a pending fall? Here are five questions Ottawa must answer before the puck drops on the next season.
Will teams bust the trap?
The NHL is a copycat league. When a team finds success, others fall in line behind, trying to replicate the system that found winning ways. While Ottawa made a deep playoff run, chances are that teams will attempt to replicate the Penguins, who were able to bust the trap and defeat the Senators.
With more and more teams using Pittsburgh as a reference point, will the trap be as successful next season? There is a good chance that the blueprint to beat the Senators is currently on the desk of every coach and general manager in the league. The one-trick pony that Ottawa was last year may not be as impressive in the coming season.
Will the loss of depth hurt the Sens?
Chris Neil has had a long and… well… infamous career with the Senators. He wasn’t a consistent scoring threat, but more of a physical threat, and that made him important to the team for his 16 seasons. Because of a personality clash with Boucher, Neil has played his last game as a Senator. He remains on the free-agent market.
News has also broken recently that Viktor Stalberg has taken his game to the Swiss League in preparation for a turn on Sweden’s Olympic team. Stalberg contributed two assists in the playoffs, averaging just over 13:46 per game in his brief stint with the Senators.
Overall, general manager Pierre Dorion allowed 14 contracts to expire, losing a good portion of Ottawa’s depth, some of which stretched into the AHL. While the team hasn’t lost any of its key players, the lack of quality bottom-six players and stopgaps could hurt a team which played deep into the playoffs last year and may suffer a hangover.
Can Ottawa score more?
Ottawa’s 212 goals (2.58 goals per game) placed in the bottom third of the league last year. Of course, low goal totals are indicative of the Senators’ style, but the team was the benefactor of quality goaltending, allowing only 214 goals against – good enough for 11th.
This negative goal differential is not sustainable if the Senators hope to return to the playoffs this season. Someone will have to score, and since there doesn’t appear to be a free agent that can help the team, it will have to come from within.
Erik Karlsson is certainly a unique defenseman. He led the team last season with 71 points. But it’s never a good sign when most of the scoring comes from the blue line. Several players, including Jean-Gabriel Pageau, whose production dropped 10 points last year, will have to provide that scoring boost for the Senators this year if there is any hope for success.
Can Anderson replicate last year?
Craig Anderson had a career season in 2016-17. It was emotional for sure, and Anderson rose to the occasion, juggling off-ice concerns with family and a team that lacked scoring support on the ice. He had his best numbers as a starter last year, but at 35, it’s tough to go all-in on Anderson having a similar season this year.
His numbers may fall more closely to his median performance, much like the 2015-16 season. He finished that year starting 60 games and posted a .916 save percentage, along with a 2.78 goals against average.
If Anderson has a more normal year, the Senators could fall out of the playoffs. The extra half-goal per game would add up to more than 30 goals over the course of the season, which would certainly alter Ottawa’s win total.
Has Ryan bottomed out?
Bobby Ryan has been a consistent contributor throughout his career, but his production dropped steeply last season. Ryan scored 13 goals and added 12 assists for 25 points, his fewest since his rookie year, in which he played only 23 games.
Ryan’s ice time was also cut from over 17 minutes a night to just 15:30. Boucher kept Ryan on a tight leash last year, and the former Duck did little to help his own cause with the time he was given.
Ryan performed well in the playoffs and was rewarded with extra minutes for the Senators; it seems that the team’s success is tied directly to Ryan’s. Without a doubt, the Senators need the forward to bounce back this season. An extra 25 points from Ryan would make a world of difference for the team.
There are a lot of moving parts in Ottawa. The team is depending on comebacks and consistency, which are far from a sure bet. With mere weeks remaining until training camp, the Senators don’t have much time to find the answers to the questions above.
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