The Ottawa Senators finished 14th in the lockout-shortened NHL, with a record of 25-17-6 for 56 points; this represents a pro-rated 3-point (and 1 win) improvement over last season (when they were 16th in the league). The team was 26th in scoring (dropping from 5th last year), which made them the lowest scoring team in the playoffs. They were 4th in goals against (up from 24th last season), tied for 10th in goal differential (up from 14th), tied for 20th on the powerplay (down from 11th), had the league’s best penalty killing percentage (up from 20th), were 15th in 5-on-5 goals for/against (down from 11th), first in shots per game (up from 5th), 23rd in shots allowed per game (up from 29th), and 21st in faceoffs (down from 16th). This was all accomplished with the 25th lowest payroll in the NHL (lower payrolls that made the playoffs: the Islanders (28th) and the Blues (29th)).
Back in January I made my prediction that the Sens would finish 9th and miss the playoffs, likely due to injury problems. I was correct about the injuries, but not the team’s performance. As in the previous season, the Sens initial lineup changed significantly throughout the season, this time due to injuries. Unexpected players became regulars (Eric Gryba and Andre Benoit), while a number of rookies played their first NHL games (the aforementioned Gryba along with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, David Dziurzynski, and Derek Grant). Ottawa made two trades, sending pending RFA Ben Bishop to Tampa for Cory Conacher, and giving up a 2014 6th round pick for pugilist Matt Kassian (they lost the popular but little-used Kaspars Daugavins via waivers). None of the deals made much impact, which fits in with Bryan Murray’s mediocre trade track record in Ottawa. Turris lead the team with a meagre 29 points; Wiercioch, Silfverberg, and Zibanejad were a team best +9, while Smith was a team worst -9.
Throughout the season I posted ten-game segments looking at how the Sens performed, so here’s a brief recap of the season that was:
The first ten games the Sens went 6-3-1 and were lead by Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, and Milan Michalek; Craig Anderson put up ridiculous numbers, Jason Spezza was lost for the rest of the regular season, and the Mark Borowiecki experiment came and went
The next segment saw the Sens again go 6-3-1, with Colin Greening and Daniel Alfredsson leading the way with a meagre 5-points each; Craig Anderson continued to be excellent until he was injured and then Ben Bishop picked up the ball; Ottawa lost Karlsson, Michalek, the aforementioned Anderson, and the unproductive Peter Regin to injury; this year’s Stephane Da Costa experiment ended, while Gryba and Dziurzynski were added to the lineup
The next segment the Sens went 4-2-4 and were lead by Sergei Gonchar (his best stretch of games as a Sen) and Patrick Wiercioch; Robin Lehner had phenomenal numbers despite losing four games in extra time/shootouts, Marc Methot was somehow -7; Kassian was added to the lineup via trade, while Mark Stone was called up
The next segment saw the Sens go 4-6-0, lead by Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, and Methot; Anderson returned, Bishop was dealt (so Conacher was added) and Daugavins waived, Stone was sent down while Mike Hoffman and Pageau were called up
The final segment the Sens went 5-3-0 and were lead by Turris and Gonchar; Karlsson and Michalek returned to the lineup, Chris Neil was a team worst -4
Here’s a look at how the players performed throughout the season with my analysis and a grade for each player (A=outstanding season, B=above expectations, C=expectations met, D=below expectations, F=well below expectations), for players who played in the minors or other organisations, I’m only looking at how they did with Ottawa (TOI=time on ice, FO%=faceoff percentage, INJ=games missed due to injury, SCR=scratched):
Kyle Turris 48-12-17-29 +6 TOI 19:38 FO% 49.0 Grade C
In the absence of Jason Spezza, Turris demonstrated two things: he isn’t a first line center, but his production isn’t hurt by facing an opposing team’s top checkers. We learned that Turris is a legitimate NHL-caliber 2nd-line center, but doesn’t have the juice to be more than that.
Sergei Gonchar 45-3-24-27 +4 TOI 23:59 INJ 3 Grade B
In the absence of Karlsson the 39-year old was able to carry enough weight for the team to make the playoffs. His legs aren’t once what they were and he doesn’t have it in him to shut down the NHL’s elite, but he did more than was expected and the season is a nice send-off for the veteran who I do not expect to be re-signed by Ottawa.
Daniel Alfredsson 47-10-16-26 +1 TOI 19:20 INJ 1 Grade C
It was an unremarkable regular season for the captain, who remains an effective top-six forward, but simply can’t do it all on his own anymore. While he raised his game to another level in the playoffs and has the juice to play another season of two, he needs people around him to step in and take over some of his offensive production.
Mika Zibanejad 42-7-13-20 +9 TOI 13:33 FO% 46.4 SCR 1 Grade B
Despite a mediocre debut in the AHL, Zibanejad was more productive at the NHL level, only looking overwhelmed when the Sens got into the playoffs. He has defensive struggles and needs to improve on faceoffs, but as a 2o-year old there’s a lot more to look forward too.
Jakob Silfverberg 48-10-9-19 +9 TOI 16:13 Grade C
He was able to dominate in Binghamton and was close to a pro-rated 20-goal pace in his NHL rookie season. Solid defensively, if he can add a little quickness he’ll be more productive at this level.
Colin Greening 47-8-11-19 +5 TOI 14:43 SCR 1 Grade C
Responded well after an early season benching. He can’t produce consistently, but he’s an effective player who is good up and down the lineup.
Patrick Wiercioch 42-5-14-19 +9 TOI 15:41 SCR 6 Grade B
Finally got over the hump in the AHL and showed flashes of the same in the NHL. Still lacks consistency and could use a little more strength, but there was a lot to like about his first season as a full-time NHLer.
Zack Smith 48-4-11-15 -9 TOI 15:08 Grade D
Despite having the full support of the coaching staff it was not a great year for Smith, who struggled at times on both sides of the puck. I see it as an off-year rather than a trend.
Chris Phillips 48-5-9-14 -5 TOI 21:02 Grade C
The big rig continues to truck along; when he’s playing protected minutes on the third-pairing he’s very effective, but he when that changes he starts to break down. I have no idea why he keeps appearing on the Sens powerplay.
Milan Michalek 23-4-10-14 +8 TOI 18:11 INJ 25 Grade D
This season represents what we’ve come to expect from the big Czech winger–missing huge parts of the season because of injury. Even if healthy I thought there was no chance for him to score like he did in his career season last year. Can he come back and be productive after yet more surgery? Time will tell, but you do have to wonder when the penny will drop and his career gets derailed by his body.
Erik Karlsson 17-6-8-14 +8 TOI 27:09 INJ 31 Grade B
He came back too soon from injury, but when healthy he was all-world and would have challenged for the Norris trophy. The question that remains is what shape will he be in when the season starts?
Chris Neil 48-4-8-12 Even TOI 13:51 Grade C
More of the same from the Sens tough winger; his goal-scoring was a bit low, but offence isn’t really what the team is looking for from him.
Erik Condra 48-4-8-12 +3 TOI 13:10 Grade C
One of the smartest players on the team, I can’t help but wonder how productive he’d be if he had more finish around the net. A useful player who helps drive puck possession, expect more of the same next season.
Marc Methot 47-2-9-11 +2 TOI 22:13 INJ 1 Grade B
I didn’t know what to expect from the big blueliner when Murray traded for him last summer, but he was better than I expected. He was excellent when paired with Karlsson and continued to be excellent without him.
Andre Benoit 33-3-7-10 -3 TOI 16:25 SCR 15 Grade B
I’m not sure that Benoit has established himself as an NHLer, but he did a good job filling in while the Sens were short on the blueline. It’s a little ominous for his future that he was scratched down the stretch run, but there will always be work somewhere for him as long as he stays healthy.
Guillaume Latendresse 27-6-4-10 -2 TOI 14:48 INJ 19 SCR 2 Grade D
My expectations weren’t high for the plodding winger and he managed to slip even under those. He has good hands, but can’t keep up with the pace and simply doesn’t use his size enough to be truly effective. As expected, injury cost him a good chunk of the season.
Eric Gryba 33-2-4-6 -3 TOI 20:16 SCR 1 Grade B
Long touted by the organisation as a good depth player, he got more than just a look this year beating out Borowiecki as a full time player on the team. There were a lot of struggles for him, but Paul MacLean gave him tough minutes which is a sign he believes Gryba can handle it. One wonders where he fits in with the Sens plans next season.
Jim O’Brien 29-5-1-6 -2 TOI 11:25 FO% 45.7 INJ 4 SCR 15 Grade D
After a hot start O’Brien quickly slipped down the depth chart until he was an afterthought in the pressbox. No one seems sure what it is that O’Brien did to lose his spot on the roster, but the future is bleak for him going forward.
Jason Spezza 5-2-3-5 +3 TOI 19:10 FO% 57.1 INJ 43 Grade incomplete
Looked dynamic to start the season, but yet another back injury derailed his season.
Cory Conacher 12-2-3-5 +6 TOI 12:50 Grade C
After a hot start with the Lightning the diminutive forward continued mediocre play with the Sens. There’s a lot to like about his tenacity, but he needs to work on his play without the puck.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau 9-2-2-4 +3 TOI 11:29 FO% 48.8 Grade incomplete
A sensation in the playoffs there was a lot to like about the undersized rookie in his brief debut. Was it all a flash in the pan? Can he continue that level of play next season? He’ll get the opportunity, but time will tell.
Kaspars Daugavins 19-1-2-3 -7 TOI 11:25 SCR 12 Grade F
A popular player, it was not a great season for Daugavins who earned a spot on the bench and then on the waiver wire. I’m not convinced he’ll ever be an NHL regular, although his positive attitude may see him as a 13th forward for awhile.
Peter Regin 27-0-3-3 -4 TOI 11:31 FO% 43.8 INJ 7 SCR 14 Grade F
I like the Dane, but clearly the injuries have taken too much away from his play for him to be a useful NHL forward. The offense is gone and he’s too fragile to grind it out. I expect him to be in Europe next season.
David Dziurzynski 12-2-0-2 -1 TOI 12:32 INJ 6 Grade incomplete
His brief debut included two surprises: goals (he doesn’t produce much in the AHL) and being knocked out in his first NHL fight. I don’t know that Dizzy has enough talent to ever be an NHL regular, but he played well in his brief time in the league.
Stephane Da Costa 9-1-1-2 -3 TOI 11:51 FO% 60.9 Grade incomplete
This might have been the end of the line for Da Costa who seems to be at the same level that he was last season and is getting surpassed by other players in the organisation. There’s talent there, but conditioning and defensive play remain his issues.
Mike Lundin 11-0-1-1 -2 TOI 15:30 INJ 23 SCR 14 Grade F
It was an ugly year for the free agent signee, who did absolutely nothing to demonstrate he can still play in the league.
Matt Kassian 15-1-0-1 Even TOI 6:22 SCR 6 Grade incomplete
What can you say about a one-dimensional enforcer? He dropped the gloves a few times.
Jared Cowen 7-1-0-1 +1 TOI 20:17 INJ 41 Grade incomplete
A wasted year for the big blueliner, who wasn’t himself when he returned from injury. Watch for him to bounce back next season.
Derek Grant 5-0-0-0 -1 TOI 8:39 FO% 54.8 SCR 1 Grade incomplete
Did not look ready for the big time in his limited debut, but I can see what the Sens are hoping from him (a checking third line center who can score).
Mark Borowiecki 6-0-0-0 TOI 12:59 SCR 4 Grade incomplete
The stage was set for the Borocop to be an NHL regular this year, but instead he lost his roster spot to Gryba. He has a lot of great intangibles and it will be interesting to see how he does in training camp in the fall.
Mike Hoffman 3-0-0-0 -1 TOI 12:19 INJ 12 Grade incomplete
The idea of Hoffman as a second line forward makes no sense to me, but there might be space for him as a third line player. He just doesn’t have enough on his resume to be sure, but he has played long enough in the AHL to demonstrate he doesn’t produce enough at that level to score a lot in the NHL.
Mark Stone 4-0-0-0 -1 TOI 10:00 Grade incomplete
Had an up and down year in Binghamton complicated by injury; was decent in limited time with Ottawa, but didn’t show enough of his hands to guarantee himself a spot next season.
Craig Anderson 12-9-5 1.69 .941 INJ 12 Grade A
It was a great season for Andy; fantastic until he was injured. He was a huge part of the team making the playoffs, his collapse against the Penguins notwithstanding.
Robin Lehner 5-3-4 2.20 .936 Grade B
He’s finally made it as a full time player as the team got rid of Bishop. There was never any question about his talent, just his conditioning and his mental toughness. He’ll push Anderson next season and is great security in case of injury.
Ben Bishop 8-5-0 2.45 .922 Grade C
Couldn’t out shine Lehner in the AHL and wasn’t able to do so in the NHL either. I’m not sure he’s consistent enough to be a starting goaltender, but he may get that chance in Tampa.
The season was a success not just because of the modest gains in the standings (and subsequent playoff run), but because of Ottawa’s resilience in the face of key injuries. Besides the goaltenders no player truly stood out with an especially strong year, but the sum of the whole proved greater than the parts. There’s a lot to absorb and a number of conclusions to be made (a full discussion of changes for next season is forthcoming). Various peripheral pieces of the team played their way off it (some during the season, others now in the off-season), while others have staked their place in the roster going forward. Looking ahead the Sens will continue to need improvement from within, especially when it comes to scoring. It was an entertaining year and I think fans are safe in expecting more of them in the future.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)