Yesterday I looked at reasons why this upcoming season could see some improvement, and all five of them are legitimate. However, not all of those things will come to fruition, and we need to look at the other side in order to properly evaluate the team before the season begins.
So for today, here are five reasons why the 2016-17 season could go just as poorly as last year:
Craig Anderson Declining
This was a talking point last year after Robin Lehner was traded, and it’s still valid today. He was slightly above average with a .916 SV% so he certainly wasn’t a problem last year, but at the age of 35, it’s hard to have complete faith in him.
The list of goalies performing well after age 35 is so small, and it feels like we’re just waiting until Anderson drops off the cliff. Perhaps he is a different animal because he was a late-bloomer, but nobody is going to convince me that he is a sure thing to be a good or great goalie this year. No one really knows how long he will continue to be a good starter, and it’s something to keep an eye on.
Depth Getting Crushed
I talked about the depth potentially being better yesterday, but in reality I don’t love it. There were some cheap free agents out there for anywhere between $900,000 to $2 million, and the bottom six and bottom pairing don’t look great right now.
Last year Ottawa’s biggest problem was the defense, but also their depth players getting crushed in their own zone every single shift. I mean, take a look at how bad the bottom of this list looks.
Hopefully Zack Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau can hold their own on the third line, but using Curtis Lazar in a prominent role and Chris Neil and Mark Borowiecki every night might not work out so well.
The only player added to help with this was Chris Kelly, and he should make the team a bit better. However, I feel like adding one or two more pieces would have made the group more competent. I’m not going to say that this will definitely be an issue, but considering they only added one new player, I don’t see why it would be much different than years past. The young players on the fringes could help, but it’s a lot to bank on.
Relying Too Much on Health
This point and the last one are quite similar. Although I talked about Clarke MacArthur and Kyle Turris coming back yesterday, there is no reason to believe that the team will be completely healthy for the entire season. Almost every team in the league goes through a couple bigger injuries, and they just have to live with it.
As it stands right now, Ottawa’s roster is certainly a capable one. However, if someone like Mark Stone goes down, their right wing depth chart looks pretty bad. Curtis Lazar might be forced to play a top-six role, and Chris Neil will be getting regular minutes again. This of course might not happen, but you’d think one of the bigger names will be down for at least a stretch of the season.
No team is ever going to have back-up top-six players to replace injured guys, that just doesn’t happen. However, a lot of people are talking about MacArthur and Turris coming back and being healthy, while assuming that the entire roster will be fine as well. It usually doesn’t work out that way, and the Senators could end up being vulnerable if they have a couple key injuries again.
Too Many Teams, Not Enough Spots
There are a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference that are continuing their upward climb. The Florida Panthers look like legitimate contenders now and have one of the best defense corps in the Conference. The Tampa Bay Lightning are essentially the same team. The Montreal Canadiens are a wildcard, but I wouldn’t count them out if they have Carey Price. The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings are on a trend downwards, but they are about on the same level as the Senators.
Even the Buffalo Sabres have a shot at making the playoffs because of how wide open it is. The point is, many teams took chances to get better this off-season. Ottawa hired Guy Boucher, swapped Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard, and signed Chris Kelly. I wouldn’t call that an eventful summer, and other teams made more significant moves.
To me, the Panthers and Lightning look like locks to make the playoffs. Then it’s essentially the Canadiens, Red Wings, Bruins, Senators, and Sabres fighting for two spots left (and potentially three, but that’s unlikely). Mathematically, it’s going to be tough for Ottawa to get in.
If Marc Methot Continues to Slide
Marc Methot played very well with Erik Karlsson in his three seasons in Ottawa, but last year he quietly took a step back. He didn’t really look like the Methot we have been used to seeing, and it showed in the teams results.
At the age of 31, he’s certainly too young to write off, since there’s a very real possibility he had an off-year or was dealing with an undisclosed injury. However, what if he’s lost a bit of his play?
If he plays like he did last year, or even worse, then Ottawa’s defense corps may be no better than it was before the Dion Phaneuf trade. It’s imperative that he can play like a 2nd pairing/fringe 1st pairing defenseman like he has always been, since the blueline is not very deep.
Ottawa better hope he is healthy and can turn it around. Although at least he’s a likeable guy, just look at his twitter avatar:
Just as the five reasons yesterday were legitimate, these concerns are as well. As I said yesterday, not all of these will happen, but it’s something to watch out for. As we head into the season, let’s try to take a balanced approach and not get too optimistic or too pessimistic about what this year can bring. No matter what, I’m still excited to watch some hockey and see how the season unfolds.