The Time is now: Can the Ottawa Senators Make Magic?
The Ottawa Senators are sitting in second place in the Atlantic division and are in a prime position to do something they have not done since 2005-06: win a division title. 2005-06 was a much different time for the Senators: they arguably had the best first line in the league: with Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Backed by star blue-liners Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, along with goaltender Dominik Hasek, the Sens were amongst the best in the league. Now, all six of those players are gone. As a matter of fact, only two players remain from that 05-06 roster: Chris Neil and Chris Kelly. Neil is a healthy scratch the majority of nights now, and Kelly is a fourth-line center and penalty killer. A new core has emerged in Ottawa one that is primed and ready to burst onto the scene.
At the heart of the Sens is team captain Erik Karlsson, arguably the best defenseman in the game. Already the team’s offensive star, Karlsson has undergone a drastic transformation defensively this season. In contrast to last season under Dave Cameron, Karlsson has focused more on his defensive abilities for Head Coach Guy Boucher, resulting in Karlsson’s promotion to the penalty kill unit. The statistics speak for themselves: Karlsson is top three in blocked shots (144), points, and assists amongst defenseman. If it was not for the phenomenal season of Brent Burns, Karlsson would likely be poised to win his third Norris Trophy.
Speaking of defenseman, Karlsson has the stable Marc Methot to back him up and provide structure. An underrated veteran Methot adds stability to the back-end and allows Karlsson to experiment offensively, by remaining committed to defense. The Ottawa native plays against superstars every night, but still boasts a team best +12 on a team that has a negative goal differential. Methot is loved by his coach and his teammates, and provides leadership for a young Senators’ team each and every night.
Up front the Sens’ core is different than most teams. While many teams will put their three best forwards on the same line, Guy Boucher has spreads the talent. Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman are all separated, allowing the Senators to have three dangerous lines every night. These three account for 56 of the Senators 145 goals this season, or 38.6% of total team scoring. All three bring unique strength that make them even more special.
Stone carries himself with a high degree of thievery, as the Winnipeg native leads the league in takeaways and it is not even close. Stone has 73 takeaways, 17 ahead of second-place Filip Forsberg. Last season Stone had 128 takeaways; the year before that 98. In every full season he has played Stone has won the takeaway title. His ability to steal the puck, and lead the transition helps create offensive chances for the Senators.
Turris is having a career-year in the faceoff circle at 52.4% (28h in the league), and boasts 54.3% in the defensive zone (15th in the league) and 54.2% in the neutral zone (26th in the league) (Minimum 500 faceoffs taken). Turris’ ability to win faceoffs has helped him drastically improve in his own end, and earned him penalty-kill time under Guy Boucher’s system. Turris has enjoyed a bounce-back season, after an injury plagued 2015-16 season and has earned the title of a number one center. A low-end number one center, but a number one center nonetheless.
Hoffman was ridiculed by his past two head coaches for lacking a defensive identity and was punished. Guy Boucher formerly coached Hoffman in Drummondville in the Quebec Minor Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and Boucher’s connection with Hoffman has made him into much more of a two-way player. Hoffman has played on the third line for a while now, but has continued to score goals. Hoffman has eleven powerplay goals, which is tied for second in the league and six of his eighteen goals have been game-winners. The young sniper has provided offense on a below-average powerplay and has scored in the clutch, while learning that goals can come with great defensive structure.
The last piece may contain one of the most underrated goaltending tandems in the league. To begin the MVP of the Senators since November has been Mike Condon. The 26 year-old made 28 straight appearances for the Ottawa Senators a feat that will likely not be matched in the current NHL’s format ever again. Through some luck, perseverance and a great amount of skill Condon not only kept the Senators afloat, he managed to put them in a playoff position.
Finally it is time to talk about an unheralded hero, Craig Anderson is one of the most underrated goalies in the league. I will dispute that with anyone, anytime, anywhere, be my guest. Anderson has gone through hell off the ice this season, supporting his wife Nicholle, while she undergoes treatment for her cancer. Because of this, Anderson has been away from the team. Despite this, Craig has managed 13 wins in 21 starts, and posted four shutouts in his first 20 starts. In the long run, having two goalies who can provide above-average goaltending each night is a huge bonus for the Senators.
The Sens currently find themselves in second place in the Atlantic division. Bu, how far can they go? In a press conference this past Wednesday Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk offered his take on the Senators position, saying he is open to taking a financial “bet” if it will make the team better and draw more fans. That begs the question: what do the Senators need? The finger right away points to Matt Duchene, who the Colorado Avalanche are actively shopping. But, his demand is high, and the price is steep: an established player, a first round pick and an elite level prospect. In Ottawa’s case that would likely mean Cody Ceci, 2017 first round pick and Thomas Chabot or Colin White going to Coloardo. Between White and Chabot, White would seem to be the expendable one, as Chabot will undoubtedly be in the NHL next year and will have a serious impact. However, Duchene should not be Ottawa’s target.
The Sens top six forwards are fine. The team could, improve on defense. The St. Louis Blues have been rumoured to be listening to offers for Kevin Shattenkirk, who is a pending unrestricted free agent this summer. Shattenkirk is having a career-year offensively, with 39 points in 57 games. He could stabilize the Sens top four defensemen while also providing a much needed boost to the powerplay. This team excels when they have a puck-moving defenseman like Karlsson helping run the offense. Shattenkirk would be a natural fit for the Senators. Furthermore, Shattenkirk is reported to be flexible on signing his next contract, as long as the money and situation seems right. Bringing Shattenkirk in for somewhere around six and a half to seven million dollars a year makes sense.
A trade for Shattenkirk would likely involve Ceci, which would be fine, as the Ottawa native has not proven himself enough to the Senators’ organization. If, his departure meant Shattenkirk’s arrival, it would be a worthwhile trade. On top of Ceci, there would be at least one first round pick, if not two, and if not two first round picks, then potentially Colin White or Logan Brown. At the start of the year, the Senators likely would not have been as flexible with their prospects. But, the emergence of Filip Chlapik in the QMJHL has allowed for this. The Czech national has 78 points in 43 games for the Charlottetown Islanders this year, and the Senators have certainly noticed the 19 year-old’s progression.
If the Senators want to win the division I believe they should make a trade. With Montreal somewhat off-track, and Boston struggling they have a great opportunity to win the division. If they are going to trade for a forward at all, let it be to round out the bottom six. Acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk should be their focus. Shattenkirk’s addition would take this team to a new level. With how well the Senators have played against elite talent this season, they could possibly go on a playoff run. If Ottawa wants to prove to Erik Karlsson that the organization is committed to winning it is time to spend some money and make a deal. Karlsson and much of the core are in their prime. The time is now for the Ottawa Senators, and they would be foolish to squander it.
The Penalty Box
- The Dallas Stars have won one game in their last seven, and are watching the playoffs slip away. A large contributing factor to the Stars lack of success is their abysmal record on the road. Away from the American Airlines Center the Stars are 7-17-4 on the season, which is one of the worst records in the league. On top of that, the Stars have had injuries to Ales Hemsky, Johnny Oduya and Jason Spezza. Ultimately it may end up being a fire-sale in Dallas, as the plan for a deep playoff run is not materializing.
- In the same year that Mike Ilitch, former Detroit Red Wings owner departed this earth, his beloved Red Wings will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. The illustrious streak’s reckoning brings about the question: is it time for a full rebuild? The answer to that should be yes. Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek all should be shopped while they still have value, as the Red Wings now sit dead-last in the Eastern Conference. Without a miracle, Hockeytown will not be bringing the octopi to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Stars of the Week
- Jaromir Jagr has recorded a point in each of his last three games and has become only the second player in NHL history to reach 1,900 career points. Jagr is still nowhere near Wayne Gretzky’s career total, but his feat is very impressive. Not to mention, the man has 32 points at 45 years of age. The Florida Panthers will need Jagr to continue to produce, if they want to continue their push for the playoffs. The Panthers find themselves three points outside of the final wild card spot. They have fared well out West against tough opponents, including the San Jose Sharks, whom they beat in a 6-5 overtime win on Wednesday.
- The New York Rangers are back to their winning ways. Broadway’s finest have won their last six game, and find themselves only two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the hotly contested Metropolitan division. The Rangers carry the best road record in the league, at an impressive 19-7-0. This record could be a huge indicator of their playoff success, as winning games on the road in the playoffs is vital to a deep playoff run.
The Weekly Rap
- The Toronto Raptors shook up their roster this week by trading for the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka. The Raptors sent a first-round pick and Terrence Ross back to the Magic for the services of the power forward, and while Ibaka has not played, the Raptors know what he will bring to the table. Ibaka defends the rim, can score offensively, can stretch the floor with a nice mid-range, and even has decent three point shooting. The Raptors will finally have an established starting power forward, and having Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger coming off the bench adds to their frontcourt depth.
- The team turned a corner on Wednesday. After an atrocious loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors looked to be on their way to another poor loss, this time to the Charlotte Hornets. At the start of the fourth quarter, Toronto trailed by 17. Then, they went on an improbable 32-10 run that had everyone out of their seats. Using an unorthodox five that was not reliant on star power the Raptors were able to come back and win the game, capped off by a dagger three pointer from DeMarre Carroll. The group now heads into the All-Star break on a high note, and I am sure we will see a much better Raptors team when they return.
Top 5 NBA Power Ranking
- Warriors (47-9)
- The Warriors continue to win. But, there is one negative trend. When the Warriors lose, it is either by blowout, or a blown lead late in the game. This was the case against the Denver Nuggets, where Nikola Jokic put together a stat-line of 17 points, 21 rebounds and 12 assists, and led the Nuggets to a dominant 132-110 win. It seemed as if the Warriors were going to see a similar fate on Wednesday when Draymond Green received two technical fouls and was ejected. The Warriors, however, rallied and handled the Sacramento Kings. Head Coach Steve Kerr will look to eliminate the off nights for the Warriors after the All-Star break, as the team prepares for the last haul of the regular season.
- Spurs (43-13)
- Other than a hiccup in New York, the Spurs took four of five games in an eight day span. Star player Kawhi Leonard contributed 30 points or more in four of the five games. Off-season acquisition DeWayne Dedmon has upped his game as of late. With the injury to Pau Gasol, Dedmon has seen an increase in playing time from 17 minutes per game this year to 25 a night in February, and seen his point production and rebound production increase dramatically. A master technician Gregg Popovich is grinning ear to ear, and will likely take note of Dedmon’s contribution, who could come up huge playing against other big men in the playoffs.
- Celtics (37-19)
- The race for first in the Eastern conference is on. The Boston Celtics have left the Raptors in their dust and now have their sights set on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics have lost one game in their last twelve and have really made a huge statement. They get the Bulls on Thursday before the All-Star break, and they better enjoy that rest as they will go into a hostile environment on February 24th when they take on the Toronto Raptors in Toronto for a crucial divisional matchup.
- Cavaliers (39-16)
- The wheels are back on the bus in Cleveland. After playing way below standards to start his tenure as a Cavalier Kyle Korver has turned it around. The Creighton product has shot the three-ball above 60% in February and averaged 15.4 points per game, which is a pace that makes the Cavaliers extremely dangerous once again. Korver has even spoke of wanting to play two to three more years, and hopefully that being in Cleveland, which I am sure has made LeBron and company more than happy.
- Wizards (33-21)
- The Wizards have not lost by double digits since January 2nd. They have undergone a complete transformation, which has led to their impressive run to third place in the Eastern conference. The one thing the Wizards do have to fear is an intense road schedule after the All-Star break. With only ten home games remaining, the Wizards will finish the season playing eighteen road games, which will be an important test for this young team before the playoffs.
What to watch this week?
- Thursday: Celtics vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Flyers vs Oilers 9:00pm ET,
- Friday: Penguins vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, NBA: Team World vs Team USA 9:00pm ET, Panthers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
- Saturday: Oilers vs Blackhawks 7:00pm ET, Senators vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, NBA All-Star Saturday 8:00pm ET, Panthers vs Kings 10:00pm ET, Flames vs Canucks 10:00pm ET
- Sunday: Capitals vs Rangers 12:30pm ET, NBA All-Star Game 8:00pm ET, Bruins vs Sharks 8:30pm ET, Kings vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
- Monday: Panthers vs Blues 8:00pm ET
- Tuesday: Canadiens vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Wild 8:00pm ET
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe and Brayden Cavanagh for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.