Flortheast Division Previews: The Ottawa Senators

Cam Charron
October 01 2013 03:05PM

Over the next few days, we'll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…

Today's second preview comes from Travis Yost of HockeyBuzz and NHLNumbers, here to preview the Ottawa Senators.

INTRO:

It's not often that teams ranked 26th in league-spending are pegged as dark horses to contend for the Stanley Cup, but that's the current situation in Ottawa. Unfortunately, an entire offseason spent waxing about the franchise's inability to make money, combined with the painful loss of the club's longtime captain temporarily clouded what almost certainly projects to be a very successful season under third-year head coach Paul MacLean. But, with hockey inching closer and focus turning back to the ice, excitement has picked up right where it left off in May. 

Ottawa's an interesting club, a darling team to the stat-guys and quant-friendly journos who try to look beyond the surface. The crux of the supporting argument for Ottawa's success this year need not lengthy explanation, though: they're a team very-capable of dominating the shot-clock against opponents, as has become the norm under Paul MacLean, and may arguably have the best goaltending tandem in the league with Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. Even more encouraging is that a number of players who missed significant time last season -- Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Craig Anderson, Milan Michalek, and Jared Cowen -- are all back and healthy. Their return adds a great bit of skill to the lineup, something that was missing a bit with last year's club. And, the trickle-down effect should be palpable.

The team may still be a couple of players away from becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but expectations are running as high as they have in some time in Ottawa. A playoff berth seems likely, but I think the team has set higher goals this year -- perhaps as high as taking down the newly-formed Atlantic division.

THREE QUESTIONS:

Realistically, how well is the team going to have to do out of the gate for fans and media to quit bringing up the former captain in opening paragraphs and focus on the offseason additions like Bobby Ryan?

What I find interesting is I think the fan base, collectively, understands that this team is an improvement over last year's team—one that reached the second-round of the playoffs with a ragtag group. Barring some sort of apocalyptic meltdown where this team derails early into the season, I don't think much time is going to be spent on the loss of Daniel Alfredsson, other than the occasional milquetoast column out of the Ottawa Sun that questions leadership during a two/three game losing-streak. I just think a lot of the initial frustration was with the idea that this team should have to choose between Bobby Ryan *or* Daniel Alfredsson, when in virtually every other Canadian city, the answer would just be take both and still sit comfortably under the cap.

Craig Anderson had the second highest EV SV% rate in the league after Sergei Bobrovsky last season, but over a three-year period, he's 27st, squeezed between Miikka Kiprusoff and Devan Dubnyk (per Hockey Analysis). How prepped is the team to deal with a plausible regression to the mean?

I talked about this an awful lot last year, and how it was going to be a bit of a concern going forward. Not only was Craig Anderson posting an absurd and unsustainable EV SV%, but the team in general was thwarting goals against at a ridiculous rate. Ottawa yielded just 2.1 goals against last year (second-best in the league), while being a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of preventing shots against (53.3 CA/60). I think Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner make up one of the best 1-2 tandems in the league, but truthfully I don't see how this team -- barring some unforeseen turn of events, which includes a newfound ability to limit shots against and/or riding another run of luck -- doesn't give up more goals. The way this team will combat such regression is on the offensive end, where they are due for a nice spike in goal-scoring. No team has thrown more puck the way of opposing goaltenders than Ottawa over the last two years (60.5 CF/60), but last year's team posted an unspeakably awful 6.01% EV SH%. I think the organization is, in a big way, betting on the offence of this team to really carry a big load this year. And the return of top-flight talent from injury is very likely to return the club back to their 2011-2012 days, when the offence finished 4th in the league in scoring.

For my pool, should I go with Mika Zibanejad or Kyle Turris? (ed note: this was asked before Mika Zibanejad got sent down to Binghamton for the start of the season)

Fairly easy answer here with Kyle Turris. Mika Zibanejad, talented and polished as he may be, is a man without a position right now. The team's smartly playing around with the idea of him on the wing, primarily due to the rise of youngster centerman JG Pageau and a finite number of pivot spots in the lineup. If Zibanejad's transition to the wing faults, there's a good chance he'll again be logging bottom-six minutes. Truthfully, it's not the worst case scenario for a twenty year-old, but the way the lineup sets up, it's very possible he's skating with guys like Zack Smith and Chris Neil on his wing. There's too much question mark surrounding the Swede this year, which makes him a high-risk/high-reward pick. On the other hand: Kyle Turris, who is probably the team's most underrated player right now. He's a zone-entry wizard, and will be logging another big chunk of top-six minutes, presumably skating alongside Clarke MacArthur and a rotating guard of talent, which could include the aforementioned Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher, Colin Greening, et al. I thought he was fantastic last year in his line-one role, logging brutal minutes normally chewed up by Jason Spezza. With Spezza back, Turris gets some insulation, and he should benefit accordingly.

KEY STATS:

2013 Stats Ottawa (Lg. Rank)
Points/82 Games 95.7 (14th)
Goal Differential +12 (10th)
Corsi Tied 52.8% (10th)
5v5 Shot % 6.01% (29th)
5v5 Save % .934 (3rd)
PDO 99.4 (20th)

Did the injuries to key offensive players force the Senators to go into a shell and post such a low shooting rate and high save rate? Or was it simply a random blip? These are always interesting questions to ask, but frankly, I don't attribute to strategy something that can easily be explained by variance unless I have a good reason not to.

Numbers via NHL.com and Hockey Analysis.

JEFFLER'S TAKE:

The Senators may be missing long time captain Daniel Alfredsson, but that last second fallout could be a signification of a new era in Ottawa. Bobby Ryan should be a huge addition to the team that contributes for years to come. A healthy Erik Karlsson will help the powerplay immensely. Kyle Turris has a make-or-break year upon him as well.

The biggest question mark? Probably in net - they can't rely on Craig Anderson to have another "BEST SEASON EVER?!" type year, especially when he only played half of the half season. But if he's even above average and Robin Lehner provides good support, the Senators should break through their low budget and into playoff revenue.

CHARRON'S TAKE:

I'm a little more optimistic than Jeffler. I think the team improved on Alfredsson by getting Bobby Ryan for cheap for two seasons at least. I love the addition of Clarke MacArthur and the depth of talent on the roster.

Still, budgetary problems could prevent the team from upgrading throughout the year, they're not invincible with injuries and Craig Anderson is certainly not going to be the second best goalie in the game anymore. While a lot went wrong for the Senators last year, a lot went right for them as well. To management's credit, they kept aboard everything that went "right" and added to it.

By the way, I did wind up taking Kyle Turris in my pool and not Mika Zibanejad.

CONSENSUS RANKINGS:

First place in one bracket, fourth place in another:

  BOS BUF DET FLA MTL OTT TB TOR AVG
Ottawa 2 4 3 1 3 3 2 3 2.6

The Senators have the widest gap in best-case and worst-case prediction that we've seen so far. This division may not be easy to predict, but everybody we've asked has pretty much come to an identical conclusion for every team.

OTHER FLORTHEAST PREVIEWS:

4 - Montreal Canadiens
5 - Toronto Maple Leafs
6 - Tampa Bay Lightning
7 - Florida Panthers
8 - Buffalo Sabres

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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