1432 days. Three years, eleven months, and one day. That is how long it has been since the Ottawa Senators last took to the ice for a Stanley Cup playoff game. Before the days of Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Tim Stützle, there was Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, and Craig Anderson.
As the players that valiantly fought to a seven-game Eastern Conference Final in 2017 have faded into the annals of Senators history, so has the team’s ambitions of contention. Ottawa’s subsequent historic teardown has yielded a crop of young players that show nothing but promise, and an abundance of cap space to provide them with reinforcements.
It is difficult to evaluate the progress of this rebuild when focusing solely on this season. Putting aside the circumstances of a spectator-less, pandemic-shortened campaign, Ottawa got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history, appearing to be further behind than anyone had ever anticipated.
Fast forward a few months later, and the Senators have again left their fans in a state of wondering what to expect. Gone are the veterans — thought by many to have been holding the team back — and the youngsters have reached out to emphatically grab the proverbial brass ring. Tkachuk, Chabot, Stützle, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris have led the way during a stretch on which the Senators have won seven of their last fifteen games, lending credence to the notion that the group is well-set for the future.
Boosting this optimism is what appears to be a revitalized Matt Murray, who has posted two shutouts in his last four games. Combined with the seemingly limitless potential displayed by Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson, the future also looks assured in net.
It seems all but a foregone conclusion that the Senators will be a good team again soon. The pieces are in place; with game-breaking talent at forward, on defence, and in the crease. If one needs further evidence, they only need to revisit some of the games that Ottawa has played this season, against some fairly stiff competition, no less.
The Senators have established that they can play, and win tough games against good teams. Their records against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Calgary Flames, respectively, are testament to this fact. In one of the most imposing divisions in the NHL, Ottawa has hung tough, the Edmonton Oilers notwithstanding.
With that in mind, it is important to temper expectations in some regards. The Senators are a good team at the moment, but still largely unproven. Any progress next year will be contingent upon Stützle, Batherson, and Norris building upon their rip-roaring success from this season. Murray will have to find some measure of consistency, along with the likes of Shane Pinto, and Jacob Bernard-Docker blossoming into bonafide NHLers.
It also does not get any easier. With the league’s divisional alignment likely returning to normal for next season, Ottawa will again be competing against some threatening teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Florida Panthers, to name a few. Playoff spots will only be tougher to come by.
On top of all of these factors, the Senators will also need some luck. Winning teams get bounces, and stay healthy in order to find themselves with the necessary point totals for a postseason push. Neither are guaranteed to happen, and there are countless examples of those roadblocks ending promising seasons.
Ultimately, the Senators have the talent to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2022. The young core that they have in place is among the best and brightest in the league, and another addition or two in the offseason could be just what they need to clinch one of the coveted sixteen spots.
On the other hand, a lot will need to go right. Any deviation from current projections, or fluky bad luck plays could postpone Ottawa’s playoff aspirations, and make it another early spring in the nation’s capital.
So, dear readers, with the facts laid out in front of you, this week’s question is simple: Will the Ottawa Senators make the playoffs in 2022?
Will the Ottawa Senators make the playoffs next year?