The SBN big season preview for 2015-16 is now up, which you can access by clicking the banner above. Part of that is answering some key questions facing the Senators this year, to which you can read our answers to below.
1. Is Ottawa as good as their end-of-season march to the playoffs suggests? by B_T
In the strictest sense of if they were as good as their record during the streak, of course not. 21-3-3? Are you kidding? That would be a 137 point season and a new NHL single season record. If Ottawa was actually as good as that their record during the streak it would make them the kind of dominant force in the league not seen since the 1970s, and we would have had a parade down Elgin St. in June.
Past the strictest sense, it gets a bit more complicated. They aren't as good as a 21-3-3 streak, and they're nowhere near as bad as the 22-23-10 disaster that was the first two thirds of the season. The coaching change complicates it more - the team was definitely playing better under Cameron than they did under MacLean, even before the streak started. Not record-setting better, but definitely better.
The streak was what you get when gets all of their "up" games in a single glorious stretch run instead of spread through the entire season. The rest of the season was what you get when you take those games away. It was an odd path to get there by getting all of their "down" games out of the way before getting to the "up", but their overall record of 43-26-13 and 99 points is probably not far off the true level of this team last season under Dave Cameron.
2. Is the team's goaltending future in jeopardy? by NKB
The simple answer to this question is that the team's goaltending future is less certain than it was just a few short months ago, but that the Senators really should be fine for the next year or two. At its core, this question is a referendum on how much time you think Craig Anderson has left before the inevitable decline and erosion of his skills. He is, after all, 34 years of age. Most goalies don't last this long, and most goalies don't play as well as Anderson has this late in their careers. He's bucked the trend so far, but long term it's not really a safe bet he'll continue to do so.
That said, the situation with Anderson is the same as it ever was: the difference is that the Sens have swapped the once heir apparent Robin Lehner for the newly signed Matt O'Connor. If you think the team's goaltending future is more perilous than it was six months ago, it's because you think more highly of Lehner than O'Connor. But Lehner's results were middling - good enough to justify a place on an NHL roster, never quite good enough to take Anderson's job from him. O'Connor's coming off an impressive collegiate career and could very well be the long-term solution Ottawa's long craved. Or maybe not, goalie prospects are funny like that. Lehner seemed like a can't-miss prospect just a couple of years ago.
At the end of the day, a lot will depend on how Craig Anderson holds up against Father Time and that's just sort of unknowable.
3. Will any rookies be given a chance to contribute? by Ary M
Based on the comments from Sens management during the offseason, it appears that the Senators are embracing their internal youth movement instead of trying to fill the roles in their roster externally through signings or trade. Thus, the Senators offseason trades involved the clearing of roster spots and/or salary, and the Senators offseason signings were for AHL depth to replace the talent that the team expects to be at the NHL level this season. Among the group of rookies to join the already-young core of Calder nominee Mark Stone, 27-goal scorer Mike Hoffman, 19 year old Curtis Lazar, and emerging top-six centre Mika Zibanejad are former 2011 OHL picks Shane Prince and Matt Puempel, as well as AHL defenseman of the year, Chris Wideman.
The problem for Prince, Puempel, and Wideman — all players who have put in 2-3+ seasons in AHL Binghamton — is the lack of roster space at the NHL level. Despite the Senators moving out David Legwand, Eric Gryba, and Erik Condra to clear up roster space, they currently have 12 NHL forwards on one-way contracts in addition to the aforementioned Lazar. Many of those contracts, with the exception of veteran Chris Neil, aren't expiring for another two years, so the Senators will have to be creative or bite the bullet in the press box or minors to give their young players a fair shot. In addition, a new group of Sens prospects led by Memorial Cup winner Tobias Lindberg and Team Canada World Junior notable Nick Paul are younger and rearing to go, putting extra pressure on Prince and Puempel to really show what they're made of this season.
When young players are on the NHL roster, head coach Dave Cameron hasn't been afraid to use them in important situations. In fact, the club wanted to give more of their young players an opportunity last season, but had a small margin of error once they started winning in March, so they had to be more cautious. Thus, it'll be interesting to see Cameron's usage of his young roster this season. Bryan Murray and co. have always stressed trying to "do right by the player" and give each a fair opportunity in the NHL, whether it's with Ottawa or elsewhere. Given everything, I think Prince, Puempel, and Wideman may be the three rookies that you'll certainly see in the NHL this season. We'll soon find out whether it's with the Senators.