It's Incredibly Hard to Win in the NHL Playoffs

The Vancouver Canucks run this season is a great reminder about just how difficult it is to win in the playoffs and why the Senators need to act with urgency

It's Incredibly Hard to Win in the NHL Playoffs
Photo by Ray Hennessy / Unsplash

For those that may not know, I've lived in Vancouver, British Columbia for my entire life. I chose the Ottawa Senators as my team as a toddler for some godforsaken reason, and here I am to this day.

As a Vancouverite surrounded by Vancouver Canucks fans, this past season was phenomenal for the city. Some people thought the Canucks could be a wildcard playoff team, but nobody expected them to win the Pacific Division with 109 points. It was the first time since the 2012-13 season that the fans had high expectations of them winning the Cup once the playoffs began, and the entire city was obsessed. All my Canucks fan friends were rightfully going crazy about the team, but even people who never talk about sports were getting in on it and watching their playoff games. Downtown was an endless stream of honks and cheers after each win, and the city was finally proud to watch their team.

It seemed like everything was going their way this season: Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, and JT Miller having career seasons, Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua, and Teddy Blueger becoming one of the best third lines around, other players were riding high shooting percentages, Tyler Myers was back to his old self, Rick Tocchet was the perfect voice for the team, and they were healthy in the regular season. Plus they just had that "it" factor that never made it seem like they were out of any game. They showed that in the playoffs with three late comebacks against the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers. You could easily envision the Canucks being a team of destiny after years of turmoil. And despite all that success, goodwill, and hype...they didn't even get halfway to winning the Stanley Cup.

That's not to say what they achieved this year isn't impressive, because it absolutely is. It simply speaks to the fact that winning the Stanley Cup is incredibly difficult, even when it looks like you have everything going for you. Now, the Canucks were obviously down Demko for most of the playoffs and Boeser for Game 7, but Artus Silovs stepped up wonderfully. At the end of the day, they couldn't get the job done against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and they'll have to wait until October to begin a new quest.

What's fascinating for the Canucks is how different the team could look next season. They have Elias Lindholm, Nikita Zadorov, Tyler Myers, Dakota Joshua, Casey DeSmith, Teddy Blueger, and Ian Cole heading into free agency, with Filip Hronek being an RFA reportedly asking for $8M. For as great as they were, this might have been their best chance to win, unless they are able to smartly add and draft very well in the near future. They should have a fighting chance with the core they have, but it becomes more challenging all of a sudden.

You're probably wondering: this is a Senators blog, no? Don't worry, it is. As a Vancouverite, the Canucks loss makes me think about the Senators window of contention and how scary and fragile something like that can be. Yes, Ottawa has some great players all under the age of 28 like Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Shane Pinto, Drake Batherson, Ridly Greig, Jake Sanderson, Josh Norris, and Jakob Chychrun (for now), and all of them are either in their prime or have yet to even hit it. But the thing about contention windows is that they can be shut a lot quicker than you think. Players typically peak in their mid-20s, which is what a lot of them are around right now.

I'm not suggesting that the Sens are incapable of winning, quite the opposite, in fact. I believe they have the requisite skill on the roster that needs to be bolstered with depth and goaltending. If management keep being patient and waiting for this team to improve, they'll be wasting prime years of these players' careers, years that should have Ottawa competing for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable future. I am scared and fascinated to see what Steve Staios does this off-season because if he does not act with urgency, I'll be concerned about the future.

Not only is it hard to get into the playoffs nowadays with so much parity, but it's ten times harder to win when you get there. I firmly believe that young teams like the Senators will have to learn how to play in the playoffs, and I don't think they'll be contenders right away once they finally make it in. We saw it with the Canucks this year, and we saw it with the New Jersey Devils last year: you could have a phenomenal year but it might end up meaning nothing in terms of a championship.

Ottawa needs to give themselves as many cracks at the can as possible to win the Cup because even if you have the best team, that doesn't guarantee you anything. This fanbase should know that. Alex Ovechkin took 13 years to win his first Stanley Cup, sometimes it takes that many tries to finally get over the hump. Tkachuk and Chabot have just four more seasons under contract, Batherson has three, and Giroux and Chychrun have one. Luckily Stützle still has seven and Sanderson has eight, but those pending UFA statuses can sneak up on you quicker than you think.

If Staios and the Senators don't act with urgency this off-season, they might be looking at just a few playoff runs with this core that lead to nothing. That's not to say that's their destiny, but it's going to take some big improvements to see this team have regular season and playoff success. I still have faith that this core can be successful, although seeing the heartbreak in Vancouver is a great reminder of the difficulty of getting to the top.

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