Last week I posted an article on five reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season. I wasn't sure if readers would want to hear the flip side of that or not, and they did. So instead of optimism, here are five reasons to be pessimistic about the 2015-16 season. While reading this though, keep in mind the good side and the positives.
Craig Anderson/Andrew Hammond Breaking Down
I've said in the past that I am not 100% confident in the tandem of Anderson and Hammond. They may prove to be very solid, but at the same time, the situation in net is quite fragile. Anderson is 34 years old, and we know that goalies typically don't age very gracefully. He had a good bounce-back season last year, but he only appeared in 35 games. He hasn't exactly been the most durable goaltender during his tenure in Ottawa, and it is a legitimate concern that he won't be able to play the entire season.
And even when he does play more than 50 games, he never has too great of a year. He has hit the 50 game mark four times, and his save percentages (in reverse chronological order) are .911, .913, .913, and .917. The year he had .917 was his last full season with the Colorado Avalanche when he started 71 games, but I don't think he can do that anymore. The average save percentage for goalies last year was .915, so I'm a bit worrisome about Anderson playing at that level throughout the year.
And if he can't get the job done or he gets hurt again, I'm not so confident in Hammond. His best season in the AHL out of two was in 2013-14 where he posted a .910 SV%. He already has a minor injury too, so perhaps Matt O'Connor will be forced into more games than he'd like early on. Hammond was sensational beyond belief last year, and Anderson has been great while playing for Ottawa. But to suggest that the tandem isn't fragile is a bit naive. It could go well, or it could go horribly wrong. That's why I said earlier that Anderson was the most important team piece, because he can make Ottawa a playoff team or a bottom feeder.
Last year, Ottawa's team shooting percentage at 5 on 5 was 11th in the league at 8.01%. However, their team save percentage ranked 7th in the league, meaning their PDO (SV% + SH%) was also 7th at 101.0. They weren't necessarily insanely lucky, but at the same time it's hard to sustain high percentages while being an average possession team (18th in CF%).
For comparison, in 2013-14 they finished 20th in PDO, and they unsurprisingly dropped in the standings. Mike Hoffman shot 13.6%, Mark Stone 16.6%, Mika Zibanejad 13.3%, and Kyle Turris 11.2%. It's not like all of these players will drop off the face of the earth this upcoming season, but there's certainly a possibility that the team scores less frequently than they did last year. Furthermore, Hammond won't be posting a .941 SV%, and Anderson may not play like an elite goaltender.
If the team SH% and SV% drops to just average levels and they keep around the same amount of shots for and against, their goal differential will drop by 23 goals. Regression is real, and it hurts. Just ask last years Colorado Avalanche.
Bottom Four Defencemen
The top pairing of Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot will be fantastic, and we know that. But there are lot of question marks besides them. I'm a big believer in Patrick Wiercioch, but what if he gets dragged down by other players like Cody Ceci who can't quite make that next step? The two of them played well last year, but it's clear that Ceci was the one lagging behind.
Then there's the last pairing, which could be atrocious. Mark Borowiecki and Jared Cowen were simply unacceptable last game against Montreal, and the only player that might save them is Chris Wideman. At the same time, we don't know if he can actually play well in the NHL considering he hasn't, you know, played a single game. There are just so many question marks there, that a lot needs to go right. Wiercioch needs to keep his momentum going, Ceci needs to step up, and Wideman needs to provide balance with one of Borowiecki or Cowen. There's a chance it works out, but this is the area I'm most concerned about with the team.
Everybody remembers last years run, but do we remember the first four and a half months where the Senators were looking like a lottery contender? That honestly seems like a completely different season to me. I think there's some danger in believing that the team that won all of those games in March and April is the real team. What happened if the two "halves" of the season were reversed? Nobody would be talking about this up and coming team.
People will only remember the most recent past, which is why everyone thinks Ottawa is this amazing team all of sudden. There's a chance that the team reverts back to form from the beginning of the season, or at least closer to that level. There are some positives for sure, but we can't say for certain that the team we witnessed go 21-3-3 is a really solid team. Not all progress is linear, as we just witnessed recently in the 2013-14 season.
As much as people laugh at the "weak" Eastern Conference, there will be some fierce competition like every year. The Atlantic division will be tough to predict, and to be honest, even the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres have a chance to make it. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the biggest threat in the East, the Detroit Red Wings added Mike Green to their blueline, the Montreal Canadiens still have Carey Price and PK Subban, and the Boston Bruins aren't quite dead yet.
It will very tough to make it in. If they want to get a divisional spot, they will have to beat out the two of the Red Wings, Canadiens, and Bruins. And if they want a wildcard spot, then they will still have to oust one of those three plus a potential surprise team like Florida, Toronto, or Buffalo. Ottawa had 99 points last year and just barely made it. They'll have to improve on that if they want a higher spot. So it's not so simple as having the team play well; they will need to play well and have some luck. Just like we say every year, it is going to be competitive as ever.
Thanks for reading!