Double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Then three straight seasons of finishing in the bottom two of the NHL.
As has been well documented over the past few years, Ottawa’s fall from grace was swift and left the fanbase hopeless. After trading not only Erik Karlsson in 2018 but then Mark Stone later that same season, that is when the fanbase felt its most apathetic. And how could you blame anyone for not wanting to invest any of their time in a team that was not investing enough money and resources into being successful?
Everybody knew that 2018-19 and 2019-20 were going to be disastrous seasons but that they would at least be getting a high draft pick in 2020 and some very good prospects in return for star players they traded away. The Senators embarked on a rebuild like we have never seen before from the franchise, as the previous “rebuild” in 2011 was more of a re-tooling since they were able to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons immediately afterwards.
One could argue that they should have stripped it down even further though, but that’s a rabbit hole for another day.
Now that we are nearing the end of 2020 and Ottawa is finally done dealing off all of their pieces from the 2017 playoff run (and I mean literally all of them), fans are beginning to become hopeful again. And with hope comes expectations. Do fans expect the Senators to make the playoffs in this strange upcoming 2020-21 season? Of course not, but people are wanting to see a step in the right direction out of the basement.
Ever since stripping the roster to its bones, Ottawa has added top prospects such as Filip Gustavsson, Brady Tkachuk, Jacob-Bernard Docker, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, Vitaly Abramov, Erik Brannstrom, Lassi Thomson, Shane Pinto, Tim Stuetzle, Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig, Roby Jarventie, and others who of course have potential as well. Furthermore, those players were added to a prospect pool that already included Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Joey Daccord, Filip Chlapik, and Christian Wolanin. Although the NHL roster still has a ton of work to do, the amount of talent between the ages of 18-23 that the Senators have added over the past few seasons is monumental.
With many of these prospects either already cementing themselves as NHLers or being right on the cusp of sticking in Ottawa, fans are excited to see what they can do—and rightfully so! Sure, the Senators may not have the recognizable faces from five years ago, but who’s to say that players such as Batherson, Stuetzle, Norris, Brannstrom, etc. can’t be the next group who is even better than the previous core ever was? It’s no guarantee, but hope is what keeps fans going.
When talking about the team online nowadays, I notice a distinct difference compared to even just a year and a half ago after Stone was dealt. Back then, there was a lot of self-loathing and jokes about how poorly run the franchise was—they didn’t even have their 2019 first round pick, after all. Now though, I’ve never seen more content in the form of blogs, podcasts, and Twitter accounts. In addition, there seems to be more pride with how the team is doing and there is plenty of pushback to anything that paints the team in a bad light.
I totally understand the desire to not want to hear bad things about the team right now because they just went through a historic draft, they finally have great jerseys again, and it’s an exciting time to be following this team with tons of young talent. What the pushback against negativity tells me is that fans are not only hoping for more but they are actually expecting more and are done with losing.
In fact, I did a very informal poll last month about what people would expect for the 2021-22 season (so a year from now), and 64.8% of people (547 votes) either expect Ottawa in the playoffs or at least challenging for a spot:
The expectation should be that the Sens will be near the bottom of the league again this coming year, with maybe some slight improvement.— Trevor Shackles (@ShackTS) October 23, 2020
For 2021-22 though, will you need to see them try to make the playoffs?
Although that is not this upcoming season, they will clearly need to be not the worst or second worst in the league this year if they want to make a leap next year to challenge for a playoff spot or even make it in.
Fans are hungry for competitive hockey, and why wouldn’t they be?
Do I think this team can compete soon? Not really, although I do think they have a lot of talented depth that will be good moving forward. Having expectations that are too high will always hurt you in the long run because teams are destined to fail, but hope is always a good thing to have. It is clear to me that Senators fans desperately want this team to be a contender again, although we have to keep in mind that these things take time.
If everything breaks right in 2020-21 and Matt Murray is an All-Star again, Drake Batherson turns into a top-6 player, Brady Tkachuk takes it to the next level, Josh Norris becomes a full-time NHLer, and Erik Brannstrom makes the full-time leap to the NHL, then maybe Ottawa will make big strides this year.
However, be patient with this group and simply hope for the best. Not all of their best prospects will be here full-time for this season anyway, so 2020-21 will be another transition year.
The good news about these expectations is that the message is loud and clear: the Senators fanbase is not only alive, but it is thriving.