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Five Thoughts for a Friday: Into the Unknown

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When it comes to the 2021-22 season, we have questions

NHL: APR 07 Oilers at Senators Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First of all, let me thank everyone who has continued reading our posts here through a season that started out rather pathetically before getting mostly watchable by the end. We had ourselves a weird season in Ottawa and we hope you enjoy all of the wrap-up coverage we have going on at the site, and we look forward to all of the usual off-season fun around the draft, free agency, and the futility or projecting next season. I tried to keep my thoughts this week within the boundaries of those topics we always circle back to around this time of year when we say goodbye to some old friends and get ready to make some new ones.

On the end of the Arty party

I know I’ve done a lot of these paragraphs in previous five thoughts so I apologize if this sounds tedious but in all sincerity, assuming the Senators move on without Artem Anisimov, I wish Arty all the best. Ottawa always had younger forwards who I’d rather see in the lineup so I never relished seeing Anisimov’s name on the roster. That being said, when he played, Arty maintained his career-long pace of producing about a point every other game and he looked engaged despite spending so much time in the press box or on the bench. Again, I know it sounds cliché, but I really hope Anisimov gets another real shot as a depth forward on a team with playoff ambitions. Arty still has fuel in the tank.

On Belleville’s place in the division

Around these parts we’ve talked at length about where the Senators find themselves in their rebuild, how they stack up against their division rivals, and how soon we can realistically expect Ottawa to compete for a playoff spot. And while I think we can engage in those types of thought exercises with a certain degree of objectivity and empirical evidence, the outlook for Belleville next year looks like a complete mystery to me. Pragmatically speaking, the Belleville Sens probably missed their window to win the Calder Cup last year and looked mostly mediocre this year. I consider both seasons statistical outliers and I can’t determine much about next season because the Sens didn’t play against their usual rivals like Rochester, Providence, and Syracuse at all in 2021. Through graduation, trades, and free agency, we’ll see an almost entirely different opening night roster in Belleville this fall from the one we saw in 2019 so it seems unfair to expect the former to finish the job started by the latter. I like to think they can push for the playoffs but I don’t know how realistic that is.

On momentum: myth or reality?

While speaking of Belleville, I find it fascinating that in both Belleville and in Ottawa. the 2021 seasons started off as abysmally as you could imagine and that both teams (thanks to some timely goaltending) ended with their best stretches of play up to that point. I would expect a bit more turnover in Belleville than Ottawa but other than that, this should provide an interesting experiment in whether or not a team can carry momentum over the offseason or if we’ll see the same growing pains all over again at one or both levels. Coach Mann always tends to get more out of his rosters than he should on paper while Ottawa’s young stars should theoretically only improve with age. Time will tell!

On protecting your stars

Along with all of the usual playoff storylines we read about hockey this time of year, I’ve noticed a lot of emphasis on how teams protect their most skilled players and how the officials on the ice manage the bullying that occurs often after the whistles (think Connor McDavid and Winnipeg’s defence). I do believe teams need a strategy for shutting down the stars on the opposing roster but naturally within the designated parameters of the game. After Pierre Dorion notably brought in players like Erik Gudbranson last season to provide protection for his more skilled players, I would love to see some data determining whether players like Tim Stützle and Erik Brännström took more cheap shots before or after the deadline or if the presence of players like Gudbranson and Josh Brown really affected how safely younger, more skilled players operated. We can’t necessarily just look at penalties drawn and taken to get the full picture because that assumes the officials operated at full efficiency when infractions occurred and we all know that things don’t work that way in the real world. I’d love to hear honest feedback from the players themselves on this one and hear their proposed solutions assuming they find it problematic the way opposing teams treat star players and the way the referees manage in those situations.

On picturing Alex Ovechkin in a Senators uniform

I picture Alex Ovechkin in a Sens jersey too often for my own health. After all, it’ll never happen. The great 8 will in all likelihood stay with the only team he’s ever known as he chases down the all-time goal-scoring title. If for any reason he chooses to move on, he’ll do so because he sees a better opportunity to win another ring and/or chase the scoring title with a deeper team than Washington. Still, though, don’t you ever dream? Dude takes a massive pay-cut just to vibe in that other national capital (the one with sick unis) where he can just rack up powerplay goals and watch the kids wreak havoc around him. He and Egor Sokolov can live together and invite Nikita Zaitsev and Artem Zub over to play Mario Kart. They stopped inviting Dadonov because he got Dorito dust on one of the controllers. The content writes itself.

Okay so maybe you feel ripped off cos that was stupid and shouldn’t count as one of the thoughts. Fair enough. Here’s the thing though, I’m starting to warm up to this whole free agency thing. Or barring that, a big off-season trade. For so long I’ve stood fast with the belief of “just see what you have in the system and don’t bring in outside help.” It scared the bejesus out of me last summer when Pierre Dorion started getting all aggro and traded for Matt Murray and signed Evgeny Dadonov. But then over the past year Pierre also really culled the system, parting ways with Filip Chlapik, Vitaly Abramov, Christian Jaros, Rudolfs Balcers, Max Lajoie, Christian Wolanin, and Marcus Hogberg (and probably Jonathan Davidsson as much as it pains me to admit). And now all of a sudden, this team lacks the depth I assumed it once had internally. This team probably genuinely needs some outside help to get over the regular season hump until the players from the last couple of drafts are ready to graduate (if they pan out). What I’m saying is: Alex Ovechkin, Ottawa Senator.

EDIT: Shoutout to Aenesidemus who beat me to the punch on signing Ovechkin with this fanpost!