Early Predictions for Ottawa’s 2011-12 Season

It’s early, but predictions about the upcoming season have started to come out and I thought I’d take a look at the reasoning behind them. [August 30th update: I’ve incorporate Jared Crozier’s new Senshot article.]

The Hockey News predicts Ottawa will finish 15th in the East, saying “After finishing second-last in NHL scoring in 2010-11, it’s clear the Senators have fallen long and hard from their days as a league powerhouse. The team started down the rebuild road and traded away many veterans, but still have Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson to hang their hat on. Ottawa has some tantalizing talent on its way up, namely Erik Karlsson on the blueline, but the future isn’t here yet” (http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/ 41527-The-Hockey-News-201112-NHL-regular-season-predictions-No-8.html).  There isn’t enough analysis here to judge THN’s opinion, but as you will read below the sentiment is a common theme.

The basement destination is also the opinion of Daniel Friedman’s article in The Bleacher Report (bleacherreport.com/articles/761468-if-the-2011-12-nhl-season-began-tomorrow-early-predictions#/articles/761468-if-the-2011-12-nhl-season-began-tomorrow-early-predictions/page/21), which says in part “Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are still around, but even those two forwards have had their setbacks. Alfredsson’s age is really starting to affect his game, and the Swedish veteran (who turns 39 in December) only managed 31 points in 2010-11. Granted, he missed 28 games last year, but even had he played in those contests, his projected stats wouldn’t even approach the levels we’ve seen him reach for the majority of his NHL career. There’s cause for concern regarding Spezza as well. Despite averaging nearly 80 points between 2005-06 and 2008-09, he’s notched just 57 points and has missed at least 20 games in each of the last two seasons. No doubt, the dip in offensive production could be a byproduct of the lack of surrounding talent, but the injuries and games missed are becoming an issue. Beyond Spezza and Alfredsson, the cupboard is rather bare. Nikita Filatov, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, could prove to be a steal for the Senators if he can produce. The coaching staff and front office might tell you differently, but I think there’s little to no chance he doesn’t make the team out of training camp. Nick Foligno, Peter Regin and Milan Michalek should provide some secondary scoring, but likely too little to make Ottawa a competitive team. Erik Condra had 11 points in 26 games for the Senators last year, and will probably be with the team full-time in 2011-12. The Sens also picked up free agent Zenon Konopka, who will become a fan favorite in Ottawa for his competitive spirit, prowess in the faceoff circle and his willingness to stand up for his fellow teammates. Mika Zibanejad, the team’s top pick in this summer’s draft, will get a shot at the big club during training camp, and perhaps even a nine-game stint in the pros at the start of the regular season, but he’s likely a year or two away. At least things are looking bright on defense. Sergei Gonchar might be a massive disappointment, but youngster Erik Karlsson had 4 points last year, and there are more on the way. It’s not inconceivable to think that Jared Cowen and David Rundblad could make the team. Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba may not be what they once were, but they still give the Sens a veteran presence and some sense of stability. The biggest question mark is between the pipes. Craig Anderson is the front-runner to become the starter, but he’s been inconsistent. Alex Auld and Robin Lehner will compete for the right to serve as Anderson’s backup. Ottawa’s season isn’t looking too bright. Talent-wise, this is definitely the worst team in the conference.

I give Friedman a pass on the Karlsson‘s point total (clearly a typo), but there are problems with his analysis.  He doesn’t address (or doesn’t know) that Alfredsson was playing with his injury all season; Spezza‘s back problems are a problem, but Friedman is blasé about him continuing to average a point per game; his sentiment about Ottawa’s organisational depth is off-base; Condra‘s contract guarantees his presence on the roster; there’s no question that Auld will be the team’s backup.  I think Friedman makes good points about Filatov and Anderson, and his overall prediction is still in line with the general sentiment.

Joining the chorus of the Sens finishing last is Senators Extra (senatorsextra.com/ main/eastern-conference-preview/), saying “The Senators should be better this season than they were last, but the rest of the conference isn’t getting worse. That’s why I see them slipping all the way to the basement. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world — a top-three draft pick who could step in next season would speed the rebuild along. Could the Senators move up two, three, even four spots? I’d never rule it out. I’ve always been a big fan of Craig Anderson’s game, and we all saw what he did for Colorado a couple of seasons ago.”  There’s not much content to the prediction, so I can’t specifically critique it.

Jared Crozier’s five-part article on how the Sens will do for Senshot (beginning here, http://senshot.com/2011/08/21/part-1-will-the-senators-be-better-than-boston-buffalo-or-carolina/) now has a preface bookending his predictions (senshot.com/2011/08/29/why-the-senators-will-be-better-in-2011-12/).  Briefly, these are his points (which I’ll address as I go through them):

1. The coaching will be better
This remains to be seen.  Paul MacLean hasn’t been a head coach since 2002 and has never run an NHL team.
2. The goaltending will be better
It’s hard to imagine it could be as bad, but let’s not forget Anderson‘s numbers were similar to Elliott‘s when he was traded.
3. The blueline will be better
The team lost only one regular from last year (Chris Campoli); while I do think it will be better, it’s important to remember it hasn’t changed that much.
4. Alfredsson will be healthy
True, but we don’t know exactly how the surgery will effect Alfredsson (has the problem been completely corrected and how will he be effected by the long layoff?).
5. Spezza will be healthy
Keep in mind he’s missed at least 20 games two years in a row because of back problems.
6. They will be buoyed by youthful enthusiasm
This is a little sanguine; the Atlanta Thrashers were buoyed all the way to Winnipeg.
7. The team will be more motivated
I believe professionals are always motivated (for those who listen to The Team 1200, this is something Jason York says repeatedly), but I do agree there will be less pressure on the team this season which usually helps performance
8. The team will have less injury woes
That seems likely, but it can’t be taken for granted.

Crozier’s arguments about an improved team are interesting, but they aren’t directly related to the comparison’s he makes to other teams.  He argues that Ottawa is better than Carolina, Florida, Toronto, the Islanders, and Winnipeg, with a 50-50 shot at being better than Buffalo and New Jersey.  While the article gives a range of potential positions where Ottawa will finish, I simply assumed from his analysis that they will be better than either Buffalo or the Devils and would end in 9th if he is correct.  This is the most optimistic of the early predictions I’ve seen.  In terms of specific’s, Crozier dislikes Carolina’s moves; he believes Florida’s goaltending and lack of top-end talent puts them behind Ottawa; he isn’t a fan of New Jersey’s blueline or aging goaltending; he likes Toronto, but believes their goaltending is a question mark; he doesn’t like Winnipeg’s forward depth.

Jeff Frank of The Ottawa Sun looks at the Northeast division (www.ottawasun.com/ 2011/08/29/burning-northeast-division-questions).  Oddly, Frank spends the least amount of space on the Senators, saying “The Senators will be banking on a number of young guns this season but there are still a few holdovers from the team that reached the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Finals. Injuries and poor play weighed heavily on the Sens last year as Jason Spezza missed 20 games and Daniel Alfredsson played in just 54 with only 31 points. Moreover, defenseman Chris Phillips, who was a plus 36 the year the Senators lost to Anaheim in the Finals, was a minus 35 last year, good for last in the entire NHL. If Ottawa is to avoid a last place finish in the Eastern Conference, all three players must not only remain healthy but improve from dreadful campaigns. BOLD PREDICTION – Nikita Filatov receives top-line minutes and scores 20 goals.”  There’s no doubt the veterans need bounce-back seasons, but his sentiments aren’t really analysis (or even informed opinion; for instance, does Frank think they will have better seasons?).

There are more predictions coming and I’ll continue to examine them as they come in.