Every single season, there is optimism abound for almost every team in the league. All the bubble teams think that they can sneak into the playoffs, and all the contenders think that this is finally their year. The sentiments amongst the fans are the same, as it is always exciting to begin a new season.
That’s why I want to give five reasons why we should be optimistic about the upcoming Senators season. There is a lot to look forward to, that’s for sure. Just be aware that tomorrow I will have “five reasons to be pessimistic” just so we have a level-headed approach before the season begins.
Tomorrow we bring out the pitchforks, but today let’s focus on the positives:
Erik Karlsson is a freak
Anytime Karlsson is playing on the Senators, Ottawa has a fighting chance. He showed that he can carry the team incredibly far, even if he is nowhere near 100% healthy.
If he is healthy for the majority of the season, plus when it matters most, then who knows where this team can go? He may miss some time at the beginning of the season, although with the injuries he fought through last season, I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
Erik Karlsson looking good, says he's not sure whether he'll be ready for opening night or not, however. Doesn't want to push it.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 6, 2017
Hockey is not nearly as reliant on star players compared to a sport like basketball, but with a generational talent like Karlsson, he raises the floor of the team so much higher.
He is just so incredibly good that it’s hard to not feel good about what this team could do.
Thomas Chabot making an impact
As I mentioned a few days ago, Ottawa has seven defensemen on one-way contracts, plus there is Thomas Chabot. That would seem to indicate that he’ll be on the outside looking-in for the beginning of the season, but perhaps Ottawa finds room for him through a trade or a spot opens up due to injury.
Regardless of where he begins, Chabot will be playing in Ottawa this season. And when he does get his chance, I really think he will make the most of it. I know he’s only played one career game, but I think he could quickly become the second best defenseman on this team behind Karlsson.
Is that a lot to put on a 20-year old? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited at what kind of player he can become. If he develops into a solid player in his rookie season, then the outlook for the Senators season looks much brighter.
They can get over the hump
As recently as April, it was incredibly hard to envision the Senators going deep in the playoffs, because they had one measly series win since 2008. Predicting Ottawa to push the Pittsburgh Penguins to double overtime in game seven of the Conference Finals would have been laughable.
But now, the narrative has turned to: “we can beat almost anyone.” The Stanley Cup champions were the better team against Ottawa, but they certainly did not seem like some unbeatable behemoth. The Bruins and Rangers were not the cream of the crop either, but that’s the point: there aren’t that many teams that scare me right now.
The Penguins will be the Penguins, the Capitals will be great (although depleted), the Lightning will be improved, and the Leafs will be more experienced. There are other good teams in the conference, but I believe the Senators are at least capable of beating any of them (whether they actually do beat them is another story).
Even amongst the four teams that I think will be very good, Ottawa proved they can hang with all of them. This must be a nice feeling for the players as well, as psychologically they feel like they can accomplish anything. Winning a round or two in the playoffs no longer seems impossible.
Improved depth for the whole season
In the first half of last season, Ottawa was consistently trotting out a lineup that featured two veterans that were no longer playable in Chris Neil and Chris Kelly, as well as Curtis Lazar who couldn’t score to save his life. Mark Borowiecki was also a necessity, as there weren’t any obvious better options.
Fast forward into the second half, and all of a sudden the Senators had too many players on their roster. With the acquisitions of Alex Burrows, Viktor Stalberg, Tommy Wingels, Chris DiDomenico, and Colin White, and the emergence of Freddy Claesson and Ben Harpur, Ottawa raised their floor for the playoffs.
The team’s performance after the additions were noticeably better, as their fourth line wasn’t always getting drilled in their own zone. The hope is that this team is longer perceived as “lucky,” but that the results show up in the numbers as well.
Although Wingels and Stalberg are no longer here, Nate Thompson and Johnny Oduya have arrived since free agency began. We can debate the value of each of these additions (as none of them are amazing), but one thing is clear: the overall depth of the team will be better for all 82 games.
An entire seasons worth of a deeper roster can hopefully give this team an extra couple wins.
More familiarity with Boucher’s style of play
It’s hard to give a definitive answer as to when players will learn a new coach’s style of play, or when they become comfortable. But it’s reasonable to expect that some players take longer than others, especially if it is vastly different from what they are used to.
When I think of this scenario, the obvious example is Bobby Ryan. Ryan was legitimately one of Ottawa’s best players in the playoffs, although his regular season was the complete opposite. So what do we believe is “real”?
I don’t know what will happen with Ryan, but perhaps all he needed was some time to get adjusted to Boucher’s system. I feel like Senators bloggers have said this many times, but if Ryan can be a productive player with even just 40+ points, I’ll take that. He’s an important part of the top-six, and they need him to provide some secondary scoring.
Who else would fit into this category is unclear, although there’s a chance we see a uniform slight improvement from everyone who was on the team last season.
I’m most skeptical about this final reason, but you certainly can’t rule it out. However, I’m also hopeful that Boucher will only make his team better from here on out.
Why else are you excited about the upcoming season? MacArthur being healthy? Colin White playing? Let’s get positive...until I will be negative tomorrow.