Sterling Predictions Roundtable
The staff looks back at the year that was and makes a few more predictions
What was the biggest surprise of this season for you? Was there anything that came totally out of left field?
Brandon: It has to be Filip Gustavsson for me. He’s a guy who, before the season, I was wondering when he would finally break out, and start dominating at the AHL level. Imagine my shock when he did exactly that, but in the NHL. Absolutely the most pleasant surprise of the season.
Nada: I’ve always liked Connor Brown but I also recongized that his capabilities limited him to the role of a support player kind of role sot his performance this season came out of nowhere and I’m not sure we’ll see another season like this from him again (although I really hope so). It also wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Zub because I truly thought very little of the signing at the time, and boy was I ever wrong.
Ary: I wrote a piece on Zub after he signed around setting reasonable expectations for his NHL career, and he blew them out of the water. He’s surpassed his historical comparisons, and it’ll be interesting to see how his career continues in Ottawa’s top-four.
Brandon’s got this answer, though, because you could’ve polled every single Belleville Senators fan last season about Filip Gustavsson and the collective response would’ve been a *shrug*.
Spencer: Many will answer with Zub here and there’s a lot to be said there but I’ll go with Josh Norris’ capabilities at both ends of the ice in the; and that’s from someone who may be the President of the Josh Norris fan club. By the end of the season, he was playing like a solid, top six centre and regularly matched up against some of the best players in the world. His ability to score didn’t come totally out of left field for me, having watched his rookie tear in the AHL last year, but the fact he was able to gain the trust of DJ Smith in most situations was definitely a surprise.
Beata: There are so many good potential responses to this question. Jumping off Brandon’s answer, though, I’d say the biggest surprise for me was the amount of young, NHL-ready talent in net. Gustavsson was obviously the biggest surprise, but Daccord and Forsberg had great seasons too. I really wasn’t feeling great about the future of the Sens’ goaltending going into this season, and it was a huge relief to find out that we have a lot of really promising options in net.
Trevor: I think there are really only a couple possible answers for this, and I’ll go with Artem Zub. I really only expected him to be a 7th defenseman who could maybe play like Christian Jaros and look okay at times but nothing special overall. He probably isn’t a first pairing player long-term, but he’s certainly capable of playing in the top-4, and that is a massive win for the Senators.
Ross: I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been unanimous consent on Zub here. Look at the list of top-scoring KHL defencemen, and you get guys from this year like Reid Boucher and Corban Knight, they of 133 and 52 total NHL games player respectively. Zub could easily have been Cody Goloubef, the kind of guy who’s a decent callup when you need an NHL body, but shouldn’t be a regular. Instead, he established himself as the second-best defenceman on this team, and he looks to be a mainstay in the top four for the next two years at least. That’s a huge, unexpected win in my books.
Owen: Among individual players, I’d say Zub or Gustavsson like everyone else did. Connor Brown also surprised me by keeping his unreal shooting percentage going. Moreso than those examples though, I found it pleasantly surprising that Pierre Dorion actually took the training wheels off at the deadline, moving Coburn and Gudbranson while bringing in Mete. I pray that trend continues.
Shaan: I agree with Spencer, after just one season in the AHL, Josh Norris scoring at a 50-point pace was not something I was expecting. To see him break out as a top-six player while holding his own against quality competition, as a 21-year-old, is something for which we should all be elated. If Shane Pinto can do the same, look out.
nkb: Zub’s a good answer here but since we had basically no basis for knowing how good he might be, it was always possible that he might surprise in a big way. I’m actually going to go with Connor Brown, not just because of the amount of goals he scored but how he scored them: Brown looked like a different player in the back half of the season, playing with the kind of confidence and attacking flair that you would not expect from the long-time checker. I am really curious to see if that carries over to next season because it sure as heck baffled me.
The Sens didn’t much improve on their record from last season (.455 vs. .443 PTS%) but they did finish their campaign on an absolute tear — which team is the “real” Sens heading into next year?
Brandon: I think it’s definitely the team we saw at the end of the year. They got younger, faster, and the youth was just beginning to hit their stride at the season’s conclusion. If the roster stays pretty much the same, with some improvements here and there, the Sens are in really good shape to start 2022.
Nada: Oh it is definitely the team that ended the season. No deadweight, all the players finding their chemistry together and DJ Smith finally trusting the kids who have a TON of talent and hockey smarts. The only wildcard is of course goaltending but between Daccord and Gus I think we’ll be fine even if Murray doesn’t bounce back.
Ary: If they don’t make any improvements, they’re probably going to be around fourth or fifth place in their division next year. There’s a fair amount of evidence indicating that the team should change things up on special teams and add another top-four defenceman if they really want to cement themselves in the playoff race.
Spencer: I’m going to go with the secret answer #3 - somewhere in the middle. I don’t think next season we’ll be watching a team that only wins two of its first fifteen games but I also don’t see a world where Ottawa plays at the pace they did down the stretch next year. That being said, it gives me confidence that Ottawa has a good chance of being a team in the mix for a playoff spot at the end of next season, which is welcomed news for my exhausted brain.
Beata: The team we saw at the end of the season is the real Sens. It’s not like the team was riding a ridiculously high PDO or getting a lot of lucky bounces at the end of the season. It’s pretty clear to me that the reason they started playing better is because of better player deployment, a few improvements to the roster, and the team finally finding chemistry. It makes sense that a team as young as this one would take a while to find their stride. Most of the young players were facing really tough matchups too, so as I said in a previous roundtable, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they’re only going to get better from here. The Sens will be facing much more difficult matchups next season, so I think they’ll be a playoff bubble team, but I do think that the quality of play we saw at the end of the season is a good indication of where the team is at right now.
Trevor: I had an article a few weeks ago looking at how different the team was after the first 15 games of the season and also after the trade deadline, and the shift was remarkable. After going 2-12-1, they had a 21-16-4 record in 41 games, which is quite a large sample. As the season progressed, they got rid of unnecessary players like Coburn, Gudbranson, Galchenyuk, Paquette, Stepan, etc., so the team actually was quite different and much younger by the end. The Senators need one of Matt Murray, Filip Gustavsson, Joey Daccord, or Anton Forsberg to be a capable goalie next season though because that good stretch of hockey is impossible with goalies performances like Murray and Högberg early on. I think they’re much closer to the final 41 games than the first 15.
Ross: Neither. They opened the year with putrid goaltending, and finished the year riding high percentages, so they’re somewhere between those two. I don’t see this team finishing ahead of the Lightning, Panthers, Bruins, or Maple Leafs next year, so they’ll be in a dogfight to finish 5th and hopefully win a crossover playoff spot.
Owen: I agree with Ross on this one. The PDO for this team swung all the from one end of the spectrum to the other over the course of the season while the nerd stats overall just kinda went south. Assuming average luck, I expect a team just below average in league performance based on the nerd numbers we saw overall with this group.
Shaan: The most important factor here is that this is still a developing team. They showed a lot of promise in their own end after the trade deadline, and if players like Tim Stützle take a step forward, the team’s offense will be tough to contain, as well. I have no clue how the goaltending or powerplay will do, so I think those two factors will make or break the Senators next year.
nkb: A lot of things went very wrong for the Sens at the start of the year, and it would take a catastrophic turn of events for that to repeat itself next year but I also think the Sens benefitted from a weak division and some good luck down the stretch. Barring any additions, this team will be at best middle of the pack next year but with some luck and some shrewd planning more is possible.
Make one prediction about the Sens’ off-season.
Brandon: The Senators sign pending UFA Mikael Granlund to fill a top-six centre role.
Nada: Claude Giroux? Did you know he grew up in Orleans?!
Ary: The team trades some of their prospect capital for an “established” player who has 2-3 years left on their deal.
Spencer: While I try to be optimistic, my prediction about the Sens’ off-season is that they bring in at least one veteran player who hasn’t been very good in a while, likely a defender, someone similar to Gudbranson.
Beata: They’re going to acquire a good but overrated veteran who will take ice time away from younger players.
Trevor: In the search for an established RHD, the Senators trade for...Rasmus Ristolainen. And we all lose our minds.
Ross: The Sens make it clear they’re looking for a centre in the offseason, and they’re in rumours to acquire Jack Eichel all offseason until they actually acquire Anthony Cirelli, who’s available to help the Lightning out of their cap crunch.
Owen: I’m manifesting a Patrik Laine trade.
Shaan: I’ll say Chris Tierney will either be traded or bought out. I’m not sure the team wants him anywhere on the top three lines, and cheaper options are available on the fourth line.
nkb: If the Sens are drafting outside of their top 5, they’ll trade their first round pick in the quest for a top line centre.