This may seem hard to believe, but we are less than five weeks from the first regular season game of 2015-16 for our beloved Ottawa Senators. Five weeks only; it's within our grasp, friends. With patience, and incredible amounts of time dedicated to over-analyzing the minutiae of the off-season, we've made it this far. We can make it to the end. I believe in us.
To help pass the time, I bring you some thoughts. Five of them, in fact:
On our Top 25 Under 25 Feature
I won't scoop mine and my colleagues' own writing by sharing too much analysis here, but I did want to touch on one thing that really stood out to me as I look over our lists: the players at the top of this year's list took a big step forward from this time last year. Mark Stone, of course, was the biggest mover in terms of solidifying his reputation -- at the outset of last season, it wasn't even clear if he belonged in the top 6. At the start of this year, you could argue that he's the team's best forward. Mika Zibanejad, meanwhile, had a stellar year and officially grabbed the title of second line centre. Remember, it was just twelve months ago that management had brought in David Legwand to act as an insurance policy in case Zibby wasn't up to the job. So while it's been said before that Ottawa's prospect pipeline could still use some work, it's worth noting how much brighter the future looks for some of the team's more tenured young stars.
The big "news", if you can call it that, in the Sens' world this week was the potential impending conflict between the organization and Mikael Wikstrand. Bruce Garrioch was quick to remind us all that the Sens have the power to compel Wikstrand to play in Binghamton if they really want to:
The #Sens determine where Wikstrand plays next season. He is contractually obligated to report to Bingo if that is what they want.— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) September 3, 2015
Wikstrand's a long-shot to make the big club out of training camp so the organization will almost certainly have to make this call at some point. Some pundits will want to make the case that Wikstrand absolutely needs to stay in the AHL if that's what the Sens want, but the truth is that no one really knows the best way to develop a prospect. Sometimes it's playing in the AHL, sometimes it's playing in major junior, sometimes it's playing in the SHL. Who knows? And given that, I'm most interested in Wikstrand being somewhere that makes him comfortable. If Wikstrand's said he'd rather be at home for at least one more season, then I hope we're not reading about bad blood four weeks from now.
Bobby Ryan seems like a fun guy
Bobby Ryan bore the brunt of a lot of criticism at the end of last year as he suffered through a protracted scoring slump at what seemed like precisely the wrong moment. That couldn't have been easy for him, but to his credit he seems to have taken much of it in stride and continues to be a very visible player in the community and on social media. Apparently he drove to Ottawa from his vacation home in Idaho in an RV. It's hard to really, truly know who the players are as people but from all outward appearances Ryan seems like a fun guy. He's going to be in Ottawa for a long time; it makes it a bit easier to cheer for the guy during his slumps when he's doing his best to win the fans over.
The Sens are going to be better than most people think
This is just a feeling I have, but as the season approaches, and previews start to roll in, I'm of the mind that most of the media are going to end up underrating the Senators. I won't re-hash Ross' column about Sens fans' inferiority complex, but I will say that I'm not normally someone who thinks the mainstream media is out to get the team. The team might not get as much press coverage as we'd all like, but they're not generally under-rated or over-rated. It's just a feeling, but I think this year is going to be different. While it's true that the Sens snuck into the play-offs on the back of an incredible run, they had been playing good hockey for several months before that. If they can sustain their performance from the time Dave Cameron took over as coach, then they won't need an incredible streak to make the play-offs. I'll be pleasantly surprised if most analysts recognize that.
With the NHL season fast approaching, September also means that beer league hockey will get underway shortly. As someone who still plays three nights a week, at a rink a full 30 minute drive from my house, you can count me as someone who'll go through a lot to make it to a game. In fact, I once split a $75 cab with a teammate to make a beer league play-off game after my car wouldn't start. So to wrap this week's piece up, I thought I'd ask: what's the most outlandish thing you've done to make it to a hockey game, beer league or otherwise? Let's hear about it in the comments.
Thanks for reading!