Imagine, in a few short weeks we can stop semi-constructively berating strangers on the internet about hypothetical hockey and start semi-constructively berating strangers about actual but inherently still meaningless hockey on the internet. Ah, September, welcome to the advent of our collective sense of how we could better finalize the roster than the next person with an opinion about their favourite pastime that makes them angry online for whatever reason. And if any of that sounded cynical, let me assure you that I am genuinely so stoked for this upcoming season of Ottawa Senators hockey. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
On a guy who didn’t make the league’s “official” list of top-twenty best defenders even though he definitely, probably should have
We all knew the day would come when Thomas Chabot would age out of our annual Top 25 Under 25 but that doesn’t make it feel any less significant. As the former number-one on the list, he didn’t have anywhere to go so I guess congratulations on graduating as the reigning champion. For me this really puts into perspective how uncommon these graduations are and how often prospects flame out instead of developing into long-term fixtures on the roster. A couple of years ago I had five or six players from Ottawa’s 2015 draft haul penciled in to the 2022-24 roster and now only Chabot remains (*not pictured: me extremely in my feelings over Colin White and Joey Daccord). Of the last three graduates from the T25U25 (Nick Paul, Christian Wolanin, and Marcus Hogberg) only Paul looks like he’ll have a meaningful future in the NHL. All that to say, Prospect Brain is a disease and I have it. A lot of my favourite prospects will amount to nothing in the NHL. The Sens will have to bring in players via trade and free agency. More than anything, though, Thomas Chabot is so damn cool. We are so fortunate to have him in Ottawa.
On me getting it wrong more often than not
Speaking of getting completely wrong with prospects, I still remember how viscerally upset I felt when I saw that Jonathan Dahlen for Alex Burrows trade report. It just looked so bad and I could not reconcile it in any capacity. And context matters! That regular season went well enough for Ottawa. They had a legitimate chance at winning the division and outside of losing Mika Zibanejad we collectively felt really good about the other trades Pierre Dorion made to get Ottawa back into the postseason. Anyway, time makes fools of us all. Five years later, Dahlen’s NHL career has halted abruptly at just 61 games-played. Again, me, prospect-brain, disease, send thoughts and prayers. Jonathan Davidsson will vindicate me any day now.
On genuinely really liking Ottawa’s farm system
Okay wait, no, one more thing about prospects, sorry! And this probably only exists in my head but I need to talk about the restoration of the vibes in Sens Prospects land. I don’t know if the 2021 draft killed the vibes for me or if the inevitable regression in Belleville did or simply the organizational stagnation that saw no marked progression at the NHL or minor/junior levels—but last season’s prospect coverage from me felt a lot less inspiring than years past (understandably so given so many graduations from prospect status!). Moving on without the likes of Vitality Abramov, Logan Brown, and Daccord, and with an uncelebrated new crop of draftees, I couldn’t always (or even often) find silver linings last season. This coming season feels surprisingly like going back to normal (in the Sens farm system kinda way). Thanks to a much more intriguing draft class led by Tomas Hamara, some big performances at the world Juniors (and CHL postseason), and the overall improvement of the NHL roster, the T25U25 this year feels as motivated as any in recent memory. Among readers and staff alike, I have thrived in the vibes around here recently in Prospect land. I credit my fellow writers for going above and beyond with the coverage so far this summer and can’t thank you the readers enough for your enthusiasm.
On real intangible qualities
A couple weeks ago I dug into Anton Forsberg’s stats from last yeat in an attempt to better understand the Ottawa Senators’ goaltending situation for this upcoming season and I left that experience with a far greater appreciation for Forsy the goalie. Since I wrote that article Forsberg also attended Ottawa Pride as (as far as I can tell) the lone representative from the Senators roster. I don’t have any hard-hitting analysis to add here except that Forsberg seems like a solid dude and I enjoy his tenure more and more in Ottawa every time his name comes up. It seems rather fitting for Forsberg to follow in the footsteps of fellow netminder Anders Nilsson as Ottawa’s most beloved ally for the community (especially considering no members of Ottawa’s on-ice leadership group appeared to have represented the team at Pride).
On different paths out of mediocrity
If you’ve read enough of my articles then by now you probably know that I spend my summers suffering Baltimore Orioles baseball the same way I spend my winters suffering Ottawa Senators hockey. Life is pain. And if you follow baseball then you know that this summer the Orioles decided to play substantially less horrendous baseball for the first time in a long time. They won’t win the World Series or anything but they have a winning record in September. Life is slightly less painful!
I bring this up only because the Senators and Orioles both went through a full fire sale in 2018 and racked up five consecutive seasons of mediocrity (mediocrity is putting it very politely). No two teardowns follow identical frameworks, however. I always considered the main difference between these two grueling rebuilds the fact that Ottawa really maximized its returns when shipping out its former stars to establish an enviable prospect pool (the Orioles completely failed to do this (thank you Dan Duquette)) while Baltimore instead rebuilt its front office and development programs to make up ground in the ever-changing landscape of big data in professional sports (the Senators failed to do this (seriously the Orioles brought in at least one NASA scientist)). Life is mostly pain.
I always hoped this would culminate in some sort of intriguing old school versus analytics experiment. Is life pain? So far the analytically inclined O’s have taken an aging, overpaid core from the mid-teens and a barren farm system, and miraculously created a decent team five years later on a shoestring budget (drafting first overall helps). We’ll see if the Sens can take an aging, overpaid core from the mid-teens turned loaded farm system and create a decent product without the benefit of fancy stats in the same five year-span (on an average budget). Obviously, I just want good hockey in Ottawa again. I won’t feel vindicated if the Senators fail for want of analytically-sound decision making. For the record, Pierre, you absolutely still have time to do both!