The Senators Season Ended Abruptly, But Not Our Hopes

The Ottawa Senators season is over just like that, and there will be no more games for them until October. Last night’s 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens was particularly devastating considering Ottawa outshot them 30-7 in the last 40 minutes of play, and the goal by Montreal/non-goal by Ottawa were both questionable. It seems that the Senators have a right to be angry, although that’s not the angle they took after the game.

There are some reasons to be angry for sure. Ottawa lost 3 one-goal games, with the fourth essentially being 1-0 without a last second empty net goal and two of those went to overtime. There was no way Ottawa should have been down 0-3 in the first place, and they could have won the series if a few bounces went their way.

I won’t put blame completely on them, but the officiating was very bad at some points. Montreal had some generous calls go their way, and the quick whistle on Jean-Gabriel Pageau was the sticking point. Perhaps with some different referees, the series changes.

But you know what? We shouldn’t dwell on the what if’s from this series. I’m not going to lie, I was livid after the losses from games two and three, but after that I realized that it didn’t really matter. The fans and players have every right to upset about this loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that this team played better than any other team for the past two months and they deserve all the credit in the world.

In early February, nobody expected the playoffs. I had been talking about our draft position for months, and the playoffs were an absolute pipe dream. The fact that we even got close to the playoffs would have been good enough for me and many others. The only reason this loss stings a bit is because it is to Montreal. There is no other team in this conference that I would have expected to beat, but since it was the Canadiens I badly did not want to lose.

If the Senators were playing the Tampa Bay Lightning, I would have expected a short series, and any wins would have been extra. I knew this team wasn’t built to go far and compete against the leagues best, but in the back of my mind I (and I’m sure everyone else too) was hoping for a little miracle run from this group. The fact that it didn’t happen shouldn’t surprise people, the odds were that they wouldn’t make it far.

Instead of looking what the team didn’t accomplish, let’s look at what the did. Here are some extremely exciting things from Ottawa’s perspective:

 

1. They Set Records

No team has ever made the playoffs when they were 14 points out of a playoff spot, let alone in mid-February. We might never see a run like that again, and certainly not in Ottawa. They went 23-4-4 in 31 games, which is unheard of. Even Stanley Cup winners don’t play that well in 31 game stretches. The players can be extremely happy of what they accomplished.

2. There is an Emerging Young Core

This team is very young; in fact the youngest amongst the playoff teams. The emergence of guys like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch, Curtis Lazar and Jean-Gabriel Pageau as part of their already young core makes the future that much brighter. They have a solid group to build around, and they only need a few more pieces (on the blueline mostly) if they want to be considered a top team. This team is going to be good for a while.

Apr 24, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (46) celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) and right wing Curtis Lazar (27) during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

3. They Got Experience

One of the most important things from this was that all of these players have experienced the playoffs now, and they have all faced tons of adversity going through what they did in the regular season. That can only help them as a group moving forward, and the younger players should be more mature next year. “Playoff experience” is always something that is mentioned in the media, and now these players have that experience, as well as a grueling ending to the regular season.

 

I truly do believe that the magical run that this team went on turned the franchise around. They got the fans interested in the team again, they (hopefully) made some playoff revenue, and there is belief in the team again. Most importantly, I think the front office realizes who will be important in the future and who is expendable. Erik Condra and Wiercioch were essentially offered to teams for free at the deadline, but I think the team realized how important they are.

Wiercioch played fantastic this series, and Condra was a possession machine with Pageau and Lazar. It’s clear that veterans like Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, David Legwand, Zack Smith, Colin Greening (and a few others) aren’t needed for the team to succeed. In fact, I’d say they are more detrimental than anything, especially because of the cap hits all of them have.

There may be some who say that in the long run making the playoffs will hurt the team, but I have to disagree. Sure, getting the 7th overall pick would be great, but in that scenario there would be no hope for next year. I’m sure some players like the aforementioned Wiercioch and Condra would be traded, and the direction of the team might be different. Even though the team is not in a rebuild, there is a youth movement going on, plus they are successful.

The last 2+ months watching and cheering on the Senators was the most fun I’ve ever had watching hockey

It’s not as if Ottawa is without a first round pick too, because they will pick either 17th or 18th this year. The 2015 draft looks pretty deep, and I honestly don’t believe there is a huge difference between 6-17. The Senators can still get a good player where they pick, and remember the last time they were slotted 18th? They traded up to 16 and drafted some kid named Erik Karlsson, sound familiar?

If there turns out to be a franchise player between 5-10 in this draft, then maybe this will hurt in the long run. But fans think about the now, and right now confidence is sky-high. If the team is (finally) willing to spend, there may actually be improvements for 2015-16. Tanking is no fun, and the last 2+ months watching and cheering on the Senators was the most fun I’ve ever had watching hockey.

This team is so lovable, and I can’t say enough about them. I’m so glad I got to watch meaningful hockey this year, because it truly is the best.

I’ll never forget this season, it was a blast. Thanks to all of you for reading throughout the season, it’s been fun. Keep following in the off-season though, there will be plenty to talk about!

For today though, I have to say goodbye to the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators, and thus begins the long off-season.