There’s nothing better than some pre-season optimism. Virtually every team in the league thinks they have a better shot at it this year than they did last year, and it’s hard not to think “what if?”
Senators fans surely want to forget what was a frustrating 2015-16 season, but 2016-17 may be different. If you want to be convinced that this version of the Ottawa Senators can be much better, then here are five reasons why:
Clarke MacArthur and Kyle Turris Being Healthy
MacArthur was a huge part of the team in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but last year he played only four games due to a brutal concussion he suffered in the pre-season (making Mark Fraser one of the worst signings in recent memory). There’s no doubt that without him in the lineup last year, Ottawa’s forward group became much thinner.
Let’s not forget that in his first two seasons here, he averaged 53 points per 82 games and that’s first line caliber. We have no idea if he is actually recovered from his concussion, but all we can assume is what him and the team have said. Who knows if he will be the same player as before, but he’ll be better than what the team had last year.
Then there’s Kyle Turris who played 57 games last year, but was injured in the last 31. In the first 26 games he had 22 points, and after that had managed just 8 in 31. In fact, he recorded zero points in his last 15 games. I guess it’s hard to play hockey when you can’t skate. I have no doubt that Turris will be better because he will be healthy, and should be a good bet to post at least 50 points once again.
Having 1/3rd of the top-six back in the lineup and healthy will be a huge boost and Ottawa should be better offensively.
Potential Impact From Thomas Chabot
This may be irrelevant in a few weeks if he gets sent back to the QMJHL, but I feel like Chabot is going to make the Senators. Despite saying they are interested in a veteran third pairing guy, they haven’t signed anyone yet and with an impressive camp I can see Ottawa wanting to keep him around.
If he in fact does make the team, then I can see him making a real impact in the NHL. Cody Ceci struggled when he first came up and it’s hard to expect too much out of a young defenseman, but there’s no question that the potential is there for Chabot. Ottawa desperately needs another competent defender, and he could be just that on the third pairing, where he could hopefully replace Mark Borowiecki.
I’m not saying he’ll be an All-Star, but don’t be surprised if he quickly becomes one of the teams better defensemen and makes the d-corps actually look decent.
Guy Boucher Improving the Team
For all the advanced stats in the game today, we still have no idea how to evaluate coaches, nor do we know the sort of impact they have on teams records. The Senators better hope that they can have a big impact, because they seem to be banking on Boucher being a huge improvement on Dave Cameron.
Boucher seems like a very smart coach that is extremely detail oriented, and I’m excited to see how he thinks differently. I think his systems should help the team defensively, and you have to wonder how he can make a guy like Mike Hoffman that much better.
Ultimately, Boucher isn’t going to give the team 10 extra wins. However, Ottawa should be going from a below-average coach to an above-average one, giving them perhaps a few more wins here and there. That will help when every point matters in a tight playoff race.
2nd Pairing Stabilizing
Cody Ceci’s CF% before the Dion Phaneuf trade was 42.26%, with a -6.67 CF% relative. After the trade, the pair posted a 48.51 CF%, which is not great, but when you realize that they had 211 shot attempts for and 224 shot attempts against, you can see that they were pretty close to breaking even.
Playing with Phaneuf has certainly helped Ceci, even if the duo were nothing spectacular for the last few months of the season. At the age of 23, Ceci is still young enough that he can become that second pairing player that Ottawa needs. Everyone knows he has the raw talent to get the job done, he just needs to work on his defensive zone awareness and his positioning.
It’s reasonable to hope that an entire season of Phaneuf and Ceci will be much better, especially if Ceci finally takes that step forward that we all expect. Even if these two are just average and get around half the shot attempts when they are out there, that’s good enough. Anything more than that is gravy.
Depth Could Improve
As mentioned before, MacArthur and Turris should be healthy this year. Right there, that will improve the teams depth because guys like Curtis Lazar and Alex Chiasson won’t be in the top-six. I still don’t love that Ottawa didn’t sign any cheap free agents for the bottom six, but they at least have some options.
Zack Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau will begin the year on the third line, instead of being relied on in the top-six. Chris Kelly is a better option on the fourth line compared to Scott Gomez, and one must hope that Lazar at least improves a bit on the third line.
Then there’s a glut of other forwards that could all have an impact at one point or another. Ryan Dzingel, Matt Puempel, Nick Paul, Michael Blunden, and Tom Pyatt will all be fighting for a spot on the fourth line, although Puempel looks to have the inside track due to his waiver eligibility. Plus someone like Francis Perron could be a call-up later in the season if he impresses in the AHL.
While most of those players were here last year, you’d think at least one of them would take a step forward to help contribute to the NHL roster. Furthermore, earlier I talked about Chabot, and if he makes the team then that creates a deeper blueline that would have Borowiecki, Fredrik Claesson, Andreas Englund, Mike Kostka, and Patrick Sieloff as extras.
It isn’t a given that Ottawa’s depth improves, but the fact that their young players are one year older and they have more bodies bodes well for this season.
These should be things that make you excited heading into the season, although it is not guaranteed that Ottawa will improve. Let’s think optimistically for today, but be warned: tomorrow I will be giving five reasons why the Senators could be a poor team once again.
For now though, let’s discuss why this team might be better in the comments!
(Editor’s note: As luck would have it, SensChirp also had a Reasons for Optimism piece today. If you’re enjoying the happy thoughts, go check his out as well!)