Like all of you, I'm ecstatic the Senators made the playoffs. It's been an amazing run, and a whole lot of fun to watch. It's been nerve-wracking so many times, but the team has kept finding ways to win.
But beneath all of that, I've felt another very different emotion with this run: vindication. So many things that I've been harping on, along with many of my fellow internet folk, have finally been shown to be true.
For starters, how about the talk about Patrick Wiercioch? He's far from perfect, sure, but for a long time the stats crowd have been pointing out that the numbers say he's the second-best defenceman on the team. I wouldn't go that far, but the idea that he be scratched for Jared Cowen is nonsensical. It started with a suspension to Cowen, but Wiercioch finally got given his chance to shine, and was cut enough slack to hold down a roster spot. And unsurprisingly, the results have been there. Cody Ceci has been a lot better with Wiercioch as his partner. The Sens' defence has been a lot more reliable.
It also seemed apparent to me and so many others that the young guys needed more of a role. Dave Cameron has looked a lot more comfortable giving guys like Mika Zibanejad big minutes. Mike Hoffman was a key player for most of the run. Even when he found his way into Cameron's doghouse, he was given the chance with the goalie pulled against the Penguins with the season on the line, and rewarded the coach's decision with his 27th goal of the year. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been integral to this run. Cameron hasn't been afraid to put Pageau out on defensive zone draws against the best lines from other teams. And I don't think enough can be said about Mark Stone. He looked like a special player when he started, but he's been explosive for the last few months. Coach figured out that he needed a permanent spot on Kyle Turris' wing, and suddenly that line caught fire. Mark Stone is the kind of player who makes his linemates better, so he should get high-quality linemates.
Erik Condra came into his own during this run. Under MacLean, the possession darling was scratched a handful of times. Under Cameron, he's combined with Pageau to form the best penalty-killing forward duo on the team, and the two have combined with Curtis Lazar to form maybe the best third line in hockey. Once Condra was given complementary linemates with speed and defensive ability, he was able to thrive.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway is the idea that the old guard has run its course. Most of this run has happened without Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. These two were effective players at one point for the team, but they're done. The Sens are ready to move on to the future. Whatever grit a guy like Neil or Zack Smith brings, it's clear to me that someone like Pageau is far more valuable. Pageau plays with his heart out and isn't afraid to hit anyone. He also provides skill, speed, and scoring ability. To me, that's the modern gritty player: a guy who can beat you physically and on the scoresheet. It's seemed obvious for a while that neither Chris should still be playing, and this run has shown how good the team can be without them.
Of course, there are things I did not predict. For one, I thought Dave Cameron was a terrible head coach choice. He didn't have a resume that inspired confidence. But to his credit, he's been willing to play his best roster most nights. He actually follows Paul MacLean's mantra of "best players play". I figured the season was sunk when Andrew Hammond came in, but he's been nothing short of spectacular. And I figured 14 points was impossible to overcome. As much as Ottawa had improved under Cameron, that's not how regression works. Teams don't go on 23-4-4 runs to make the numbers work out. But that's why the games are worth watching - you never know what's going to happen. You can hypothesize based on what's happened in the past, but you can never know for sure.
Still, this run has proven a lot of things about this team I already knew. Kyle Turris is a first-line centre as long as he's given first-line wingers. Erik Karlsson is in a class of his own. Ottawa has a fantastic young core, especially as Shane Prince, Matt Puempel, and Chris Wideman (presumably) get added. This run has finally got the rest of the league to notice. Without this run, I don't see Karlsson getting Norris buzz and Stone getting Calder consideration.
I'm excited for what's to come for this team. The lineup Cameron's been playing will have a competitive playoffs. And the lineup Cameron's been playing will be even more competitive next year. I'm looking forward to watching this team improve and compete over the next few years.