For hockey fans in the nation’s capital the end of this season, is the end of a nightmare. Sens fans are waking up to a long offseason from a hellish campaign. Finishing out of the playoffs and in the bottom five of the league, this one was a season to forget for nearly everyone in the organization.
To put things into perspective, this was the worst result an Ottawa Senators team recorded since the dark days of the expansion era in the early 90′s. Ending with only 32 wins and points this was a team that simply couldn’t win, couldn’t score, couldn’t play defense and couldn’t keep the puck out of the net. They finished second last in goals scored and fourth last in goals allowed. If not for a last season turn around the Sens might have been the last in both categories.
The season started with hope, optimism and drive. Bringing in Gonchar was supposed to ignite Kovalev and the power play. Instead, fans saw an aged, slow and almost timid Gonchar bumble his way through the season. The team learned, like many other teams have before, that Kovalev is the only one who can ignite Kovalev. By November, ominous signs of a total collapse were showing to some but the team still claimed to be playoff bound and would continue to compete. However, the New Year brought out hard truths and exposed the Senators for what they were: an old, slow and uncompetitive team. A long, steady decline to basement continued until the trade deadline.
The only bright lights this campaign were defensemen Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza. Karlsson followed a great rookie season by being the team’s scoring leader for much of the season. Spezza showed that he was capable of leading a team and finished the year on a hot streak, leaping into the team lead in scoring with 57 points in 62 games.
Shortly before the trade deadline, Murray and team owner, Eugene Melnyk publicly acknowledged the situation this team was in and set a course for a rebuild. Out went Fisher, Kelly, Kovalev, Elliot and Ruutu and in came draft picks, Anderson and a lot of youth. Soon the team was showing more jump, work ethic, speed and were starting to win. Amazing what a bit of house cleaning can do.
To many fans, the saving grace of a terrible campaign was a top draft pick and a top level talent. Sadly, in an inept season, the Sens capped off an inept attempt to tank by surging out of the basement to finish fifth last. Lead by stellar goaltending from Craig Anderson and goal scoring by Bobby Butler and other new faces, the Sens finished strong, but placed themselves in an uncertain position in the draft. Capping that was the recent draft lottery that pushed the Sens even further down the drafting order, meaning they’ll have to settle for the second tier of prospects.
The draft will net the Senators a top talent, probably players like Strome and Huberdeau, however since they draft sixth overall, this makes things uncertain. Especially since Nashville’s first round pick, acquired in the Fisher trade, is still not set. Management may be interested in packaging both picks to move up, or may simply sit tight. Murray has shown in the past that he is willing to move first round picks, so fans should be prepared for almost anything.
On the free agency front, the Sens are looking for an established top six forward to help round out the top two lines. Beyond that, it is doubtful that the team will be big players in the free agent market.
Looking forward, the team is currently focused on the draft and replacing coach Clouston, who was fired earlier this week. The season ended on an optimistic note, and perhaps the rebuild, which is well under way in Ottawa, won’t be as painful as other teams have been.