Happy 2016, folks! As we enter the new year, the Senators franchise is at a crossroad. As noted by Trevor in his incredible review of 2015 earlier this week, there's certainly some skilled talent in their prime on the roster. However, as it stands right now, there may not be enough to help this team take the next step. Interestingly, the team is in decent cap shape, have some prospects at their disposal, and definitely have an intrinsic will to win. What kind of progress will we see? Here are *my* best and worst case scenarios for 2016.
Best Case Scenario (pre- 2016-17 season)
After 260 games, the Senators call it quits on the Jared Cowen experiment, opting to give RFA Fredrik Claesson a chance with the big club until Cody Ceci returns from injury. Ceci, after being known for his offensive game in junior with the 67s, reignites his offensive touch and is able to fulfill the expectations placed on him as the club's 2012 first round draft choice. As Erik Karlsson wins his third Norris trophy in five years, Marc Methot and Patrick Wiercioch play as dependable top-four blueliners that get a bulk of the minutes for Dave Cameron's squad. Wiercioch, an RFA, is re-signed to a short-term deal to allow Thomas Chabot some time to develop in Binghamton, preventing the organization from rushing him as they did with Ceci. The aforementioned Claesson rotates in with Mark Borowiecki and Chris Wideman, and act as examples for the organization to preach to all of their draft picks: "it doesn't matter where you're drafted, work hard and we'll make space for you." In the offseason, the team is finally able to take advantage of their cap space and trade some of their "NHL-ready depth" along with 2016 draft picks for a bonafide top-four blueliner.
Up front, Dave Cameron decides to end whatever vendetta he has against Shane Prince and is able to deploy his lines more optimally, ensuring that there's a balance of skill, strength, and speed on each line. Clarke MacArthur returns from injury and is eased into the lineup before taking his regular spot with Turris and Stone, shifting Prince down into a third line role to help generate offense for Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Alex Chiasson -- the latter departing in the offseason. With the line combinations stabilized, Hoffman - Zibanejad - Ryan are able to get into regular habits and Zibanejad continues to bloom into a top-six forward. Back in the NCAA, Colin White returns from winning a medal at the WJC and leads all college freshman in scoring, acting as a safety net for the organization instead of needing to be accelerated up two levels to the NHL. The Senators learn from their poor decisions to reward forwards on years with high shooting percentages, and decide to parlay Zack Smith in a trade for assets that are then used to acquire a top-four defencemen in the offseason. With Curtis Lazar, Max McCormick, Eric O'Dell, and Nick Paul all able to play centre, the Senators are dealing from a position of strength. The team calls up Ryan Dzingel, Binghamton's best player, and plays him in Curtis Lazar's spot for the rest of the season, giving Lazar top line minutes in Binghamton to rediscover his offensive game.
Due to 'starting his NHL career late', Craig Anderson continues to buck all age trends and provides steady, above-average goaltending for the squad. In relief, Andrew Hammond is positionally reliable and consistent. Matt O'Connor returns from his knee injury and is able to rebound after a poor start to his pro career, showing the potential that he has after being a 'late bloomer' all his life.
The Senators also manage to save some money in the offseason, with Chris Phillips retiring and Chris Neil's role filled by a sub-$1M player like McCormick. At the draft, a team decides to take a gamble on Jared Cowen, allowing the Senators to rid themselves of $3.1M, and Colin Greening is bought out after being on the market for almost two years.
Worst Case Scenario (pre- 2016-17 season)
Unable to stomach sitting $3.1M on a nightly basis, Bryan Murray forces Dave Cameron's hand in playing Jared Cowen, hoping to see him develop with more games. Freddie Claesson, a dependable bottom-pair blueliner is jettisoned back to Binghamton and leaves the organization in the offseason, opting to return to Sweden. Cody Ceci returns and is paired with every available option in order to get the stable second-pair that the team desperately needs, but is unable to find his groove with the constantly changing environment - lowering his confidence even more despite coming into his pro career on such a high note. Patrick Wiercioch finishes the season with less than 10 points and is traded at the draft. Erik Karlsson finishes second in Norris voting after another strong season, but was run into the ground this season due to being overplayed. Critics blame his lack of leadership for the team's middling results, and Karlsson starts to tune everyone out like many former stars in Ottawa. In the offseason, the team signs a 30+ veteran player (hi Kris Russell) to fill Wiercioch's void, since going with three young players for so long wasn't working (not realizing that more *skill* is needed).
Zack Smith continues to get regular top-nine minutes and finishes the season with 18 goals but under 2.0 shots a game and poor possession numbers. The team buys-in, citing his NHL experience, and Smith is penciled in for the same role next year. Shane Prince, who we find out was only on the roster because of his waiver eligibility, is jettisoned away to a Western Conference team after being in Cameron's doghouse for January and Febuary, and ends up being a productive NHL player. The team continues to run Michalek - Pageau - Lazar in the ground, citing two-way presence but forgetting that offense is one of the "two ways" -- the trio continues to have poor underlying metrics and Lazar's offensive growth is stunted. Alex Chiasson goes on a hot streak at the end of the year, finishing the season with 9 goals and is re-signed to a two-year deal, only to end up taking up a roster spot. Ryan Dzingel and Cole Schneider lead Binghamton in scoring, but aren't rewarded with NHL time, as the organization rolls with Dave Dziurzynski and Max McCormick to much chagrin due to their 'roles'. Although Hoffman, Turris, and Stone continue to do what they do, Bobby Ryan cools down again and endures much criticism while Mika Zibanejad's poor possession numbers indicate that he's overmatched as a top-six centre.
Top prospects Colin White and Thomas Chabot turn pro and enter Ottawa with high expectations, despite the fact that many teenagers struggle at the NHL level. Matt O'Connor continues to get shelled in Binghamton, leading to the organization drafting a goaltender with a high pick in 2016 in panic. Craig Anderson's workload finally catches up to him, along with his age, and his performance starts to slow down. Andrew Hammond, never signed to be a #1, is unable to provide above-average goaltending at the NHL level. The team enters next season with uncertainty in net.
Now, the most likely result is a combination of these two scenarios, and it's clear that we'd much rather many of the results in the best case than the worst case. My question to all of you is: what do you think will realistically happen in 2016?
- Post-holiday break, the Sens had a home-and-home series against the Boston Bruins. They won the first leg, 3-1, on the back of Craig Anderson's strong performance. [Silver Seven, Ottawa Citizen]
- Unfortunately for our heroes in red, they weren't able to take two in a row. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
- The last game of 2015 featured a strong effort, but the stifling New Jersey Devils and netminder Cory Schneider were well up to the task. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
- Nichols recaps Deathcember with a piece on the decline of play, and issues that have persisted all season long. [6th Sens]
- Thankfully for the organization, 2015 ended on a high note for the BSens to the tune of five straight wins. As always, Jeff has you covered. [Silver Seven - v. Hartford, v. Hershey, v. Lehigh, v. St. John's]
- Even more impressive: the BSens rattled off these victories without a bunch of key players as Max McCormick, Freddie Claesson, and Michael Kostka were all called up to join Dave Dziurzynski in Ottawa. [Silver Seven - McCormick recall, Claesson/Kostka recall, 6th Sens, Ottawa Citizen - McCormick recall, Claesson recall]
- The Senators annual 'Sens Skill' competition happened this week! Here's a recap for you. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Friend of the blog, Kevin Lee, has a wonderful piece on management's inability to reward skilled players, often choosing to favour "character" players with teachable intangibles over them. [SensNation]
- Have you been watching Jesse Puljujarvi dominate the World Juniors? I have been! (I've also been closely watching the five Sens prospects there as well). Follow along with our World Juniors open thread and read about the Sens prospects participating in the Chirp + Citizen articles! [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
- Trevor argues that Canada's top defender in terms of points, Thomas Chabot, may be important for the Senators NHL team as early as next season. [Silver Seven]
- Nichols has a scathing piece on the Senators hockey operations staff, stating that improvement on the terrible Muckler regime is not enough to buy them a free pass from criticism any longer. [6th Sens]
- Andrew has a fantastic piece on trade dynamics, focusing on the fact that GMs have a very good understanding of when to take advantage of opposing GMs. [WTYKY]
- Nichols transcribed two Eugene Melnyk interviews where he speaks on the Sens proposal to redevelop Lebreton Flats, his health, and the team's pursuit of the Stanley Cup. [6th Sens - Melnyk on LeBreton, Melnyk on other issues]
- Our faithful leader, Ross, has a piece on the Sens forward having the most surprising season thus far, Zack Smith. [Silver Seven]
- A bit old now, but Ken Warren had a great column on the (short) Ryan Dzingel call-up, and how hockey is a small world. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Catch up with Sens news and happenings, including BSens + Evansville updates, with Peter's News & Notes column! [Eye on the Sens]
- Your end-of-Nuggets audio comes from the Sens Callups crew, who recap December and look forward to the New Year. [Sens Callups]
- Sometimes, I feel like we can get into arguments about who's 'underrated' and who isn't. Here's a piece on a defencemen who many of you may not have heard of, Sabres D Mark Pysyk, and how he's performed in his short NHL career. [Today's Slapshot]
- We often hear coaches lament missed shots post-game, and focusing on accuracy in practice. What we've found, explains Jan Han, is that coaches don't really have the ability to influence whether shots miss the net or not. [Hockey-Graphs]
- I like the end of the year for pieces like this: Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch compiled some of the best sports journalism pieces of 2015. [SI]
- Another fun piece, especially given my Nuggets preamble: the most misleading graphs of 2015. [QZ]
- Something I still think is cool: how we can talk to people in space. Here's a piece from astronauts on the International Space Station on how our holidays are still similar to theirs. [NASA]
- Dim Filipovic writes about Erik Karlsson and the new wave of young defencemen in the NHL. Speaking of the Sens star, Travis Yost is worried about all the players around him.. [Today's Slapshot, TSN]
- Jack has a really cool piece on goal scoring, noting some specific ways that both forwards and defencemen can try to increase their goal totals. [Hockey-Graphs]
- Although the NHL royally screwed up the first annual Women's Winter Classic, choosing to pat themselves on the back rather than provide safe ice surfaces, online stream, or TV coverage (NHL network showed a replay of Habs practice), the exposure was still a win for women's hockey as a whole. [Today's Slapshot]
- This week also saw the first ever shutout by a female goaltender in men's pro hockey as Team Canada netminder Shannon Szabados stopped all 33 pucks directed on goal. [CBC]