When the Ottawa Senators embarked on the 2021-22 season, most fans would have likely told you that they expected the team to contend for the play-offs. Only the biggest optimists would have felt confident in predicting an actual post-season berth, but if the kids all took a step forward, and they got a few breaks along the way, one didn’t have to squint too hard to see the possibility of Sens hockey past game 82 of the regular season. Let’s just see them play meaningful games in February and March. That would be a start.
Now, with Ottawa sporting a 3-9-1 record and sitting in 31st, it’s suddenly difficult to envision a scenario in which the Sens are getting themselves anywhere close to that elusive last wildcard spot. To put the task ahead of them in context, the generally accepted cut-off to qualify for the playoffs is 95 points. In order to reach 95 points, the team would need to go 44-25-0 the rest of the way — a 105 point pace over 82 games, or roughly the level of a team typically contending for first in the conference. The odds are not in their favour, to put it lightly.
A major part of the failure to launch is related to just how many players have missed games. Currently the Sens have nine (!) players in COVID protocols. Shane Pinto and Colin White have been absent for significant time with non-COVID injuries, and now it appears Erik Brännström could be out for as much as eight weeks while recovering from a broken hand. This team was always working with razor thin margins given their precarious depth, but it’s also the case that almost no organization could withstand this type of attrition.
We are in the fourth year of the rebuild, and we were told in no uncertain terms that there would be forward progress in terms of wins and losses. As I’ve written before, when the organization chose to go down the path of rebuilding, they were selling us on the hope of a better future. The messaging has been that this season would be the first where that better future might start to really shine through. For reasons that are at least partly beyond the organization’s control, it seems that won’t not be the case this year. I’d suggest it could be time to set some new goals for the season.
So regardless of how we got here, it might be time to ask the question of what, if not play-off contention, would make this season a success? What do you want to see from the team that will keep you tuned in? What would give you hope for next year? Or maybe you haven’t given up on the impossible dream just yet. Do you think it’s still worth clinging to the 1-in-100 shot of making the post-season?
Personally, this sputtering start just makes it all the more imperative that the Sens figure out exactly what they have in some of their youngsters as the year progresses. Getting meaningful playing time, i.e 20+ games with serious minutes, for Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, and Brännström would go a long ways towards helping shape decisions on the blueline for next year. Jake Sanderson likely won’t be eligible to play games until the very end of the season but every minute he plays in the NHL will be invaluable in determining his place in the depth chart. The need to give their youngsters NHL minutes is less pressing up front with Pinto already firmly ensconced on the second line but a kick at the can for someone like Roby Järventie could be valuable. Either way, barring a miracle Ottawa will not be under much pressure to win games down the stretch; the opportunity to showcase the kids should be there.
So let’s hear it: what would make the season a success in your books if play-off contention is no longer possible?