Five Thoughts for a Friday: Rags to Riches

The playoff drought will end eventually if only based on the law of averages

Five Thoughts for a Friday: Rags to Riches
Photo by Kari Shea / Unsplash

"If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?"

-Candide, Voltaire

I can forgive any Sens fan who at times this year or last has felt like the titular semi-hero of Voltaire's masterpiece. Here we go, guided by the inherent belief that we love a good hockey team that will win more games than it will lose. We carry our collective optimism like a torch for our peers to see. And yet our favourite team continues to languish and so too continue the mental gymnastics required to defend our commitment. Like Candide championing Pangloss' philosophy despite all the atrocities in the world around us, we rock our 2D Centurions and embrace another tank season. And in this spirit, I want to at least entertain the idea of the Ottawa Senators pulling off a rags-to-riches turnaround in the next twelve months. I feel naive for even thinking it but what else can we talk about at this point? And this naturally leads me to ask, how often does it happen? Do a lot of teams pull off the 180? Of note this season, The Devils and Canucks have had reversals of fortune from last season to this one. Could we chalk that up to the PDO bubble? I feel inclined to say yes, but let's save that conversation for another time once the dust has settled on this season.

Normally this feature is made up of five distinct thoughts but in this case it’s one big thought spread across multiple examples. It’s the thought (ha, get it?) that counts right?

Devils 2022-23

These Devils kinda got to have their cake and eat it too, tanking in 2021-22, drafting Simon Nemec second overall, and then putting together an impressive 2022-23 season finishing second in their division (an absurd 49 points gained from the previous campaign). Granted the Devils made some notable additions such as Erik Haula, John Marino, Timo Meier, Ondrej Palat, and Vitek Vanacek (while losing Ty Smith, PK Subban, and Pavel Zacha). I don't know that I can see the Sens turning over their roster to quite the same degree this offseason but I find when you unfocus your eyes and look at the tanking-to-competing trajectories here, the Sens bear some resemblance to that Devils team from two years ago.

Islanders 2018-19

The Islanders have alternated making and missing the playoffs pretty regularly over the past decade but this particular season marked the biggest shift with a 23-point jump in the standings. As you may recall, this was the John Tavares walk-year and the Isles mitigated that loss by bringing on Barry Trotz, Robin Lehner, and Valterri Filppula. It doesn't look like much on paper but the Trotz effect paid immediate dividends. Maybe Ottawa just needs a hall-of-fame calibre coach and a hot goalie to turn things around next year. How hard can that be to find in the wild?

Avalanche 2017-18

For those wondering, this was the Avalanche team that lost a historical number of games, lost the draft lottery, and still somehow maybe got the best player at the draft fourth-overall. Sometimes life is like that—not that Cale Makar had anything to do with this team moving up 37 points in the standings the following season. The Avalanche had the same coach and only made a couple of additions to their roster, Alex Kerfoot and Patrik Nemeth, that really made impacts. The biggest change came by virtue of trading known cursed amulet Matt Duchene to Ottawa, thus aligning Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen as destined. The rest took care of itself.

Devils 2017-18

In the same draft that landed Makar for Colorado, New Jersey got Nico Hischier as their tanking prize and immediately climbed back up the standings by a solid 27-point margin. Again, no shakeup in the crease or behind the bench, and some good but not seismic additions in Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher, and Sami Vatanen (also Sens legend Brian Gibbons). It bears mentioning that this was the year Taylor Hall put it all together and won the Hart Trophy. If you wanted an analog for Ottawa turning things around in the coming months, this Devils team offers a pretty good template for just showing up and hoping things get better. I doubt Ottawa drafts a player like Hischier who can immediately help in the NHL though.

Oilers 2016-17

This Oilers team had a pretty straightforward recipe to gaining 33 points in the span of a year: have the best player in the world healthy for a full season. Imagine if they had kept Taylor Hall too? Or Cody Ceci in lieu of Adam Larsson. Damn. Anyway, no comparison here so let's move on to some bonus mentions.

Jackets 2016-17

I'd rather not give a lot of space to this team despite them gaining 32 points in the standings considering the coach who typically gets credited for it. Boo to that guy.

Avalanche and Lightning 2013-14

These ones get an asterisk because of the lockout in the 2012-13 season and having to pro-rate the standings points but these teams gained 33* and 45* points respectively in their return to 82-game normalcy. I lament that for Tampa, Guy Boucher takes the heat and Jon Cooper gets the glory. Ben Bishop also played a huge role in turning that around (sucks to be us!). Tampa also traded a future hall-of-famer, and Nikita Kucherov made a modest debut. In his first season behind the bench, Patrick Roy somehow get his old team back on top of the division but I think maybe MacKinnon had some influence here as well.

Upon reflection, it seems a lot more common for rebuilding teams to gradually move up the standings over a few years as opposed to rocketing up overnight but every now and then it happens. Does it happen by chance or for very valid reasons? I'll leave that up to you. For now we must cultivate our garden. (That means Go Sens Go).

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