For Ottawa Senators fans who revel in the misfortune of their biggest rivals, Wednesday could not have been scripted any better.
Brady Tkachuk delivered an overtime goal to seal a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, silencing the usually raucous crowd at the Bell Centre. The Tkachuk overtime winner came about six hours after the Senators’ other archrival – the Toronto Maple Leafs – fired head coach Mike Babcock.
After firmly holding the mantle of Ontario’s most tumultuous NHL franchise for the past 18 months, it seems as though the Senators have transferred some of that dysfunction and turmoil to their provincial rivals.
Ottawa is suddenly just one point behind the Maple Leafs in the standings, a sentence nobody could have fathomed typing past the month of October. And yet, despite their recent success – which has seen the team win seven of their past 10 contests – there are some Senators fans fretting over this recent string of good play.
You’ll forgive that portion of the fanbase if they are having flashbacks to the 2014-15 campaign, when the ‘Hamburglar’ run took them out of the running for Connor McDavid. Sens fans are feeling a familiar pattern playing itself out; when they want their team to be bad, they’re good. And when they want their team to be good, they’re bad.
This 2019-20 campaign was supposed to be a complete dud for the Senators, who were picked by most pundits to finish 31st in the overall standings. But in the past couple of weeks the Senators have surged ahead and are now sitting closer to a playoff spot than they are to the basement of the standings.
So, it’s time to tackle an important question: Are the Ottawa Senators actually good?
While their recent run has been impressive, here are five reasons why the Senators are still on track to finish with a high draft pick in June.
1. The Senators have the exact same record as they did a year ago at this time
External expectations are a funny thing, aren’t they? This season, the Senators feel like a fun team to watch, filled with hope and optimism. They are currently sitting with 21 points after 22 games and have carved out a niche as a very likeable group.
Last season at this time, the Senators felt like they were wrapped in endless controversy – including an infamous Uber video that came to light in November of 2018. Their record at this same juncture last year? The exact same 21 points after 22 games.
It feels totally different, but they’re actually in the same spot – so don’t let you expectations fool you. This team is in 23rd place in the overall standings and people are worried that they’re overachieving.
2. It’s way too early in the season to be analyzing the standings
Consider this: Ottawa, who finished dead last in the overall standings last season, are currently ahead of Tampa Bay – a staggering thought considering the Lightning finished with twice as many points (128) as the Senators last season (64).
But that slim lead over Tampa will likely evaporate in the coming days, as the Lightning have four games in hand on Ottawa. The same can be said for other teams in Ottawa’s rear-view mirror – as the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Devils all have multiple games in hand on the Senators.
If the Senators are still hanging around Tampa and Toronto at the halfway point of the season, then we might have something to discuss.
3. The Sens are actually still in the bottom five of the standings
When you factor in points percentage – a more accurate view of the standings – there are only four teams behind the Senators (.477) in that department – New Jersey (.450), Minnesota (.429), Los Angeles (.405) and Detroit (.370).
So even with this terrific run, the Senators are still one of the five worst teams in the NHL based on points percentage – a fact that should ease the minds of those worried about losing the high draft pick.
4. They still hold San Jose’s first-round pick
In a delicious plot twist, the Senators hold the exact same record as the San Jose Sharks – 10-11-1. By virtue of the Erik Karlsson trade, Ottawa has San Jose’s first-round pick.
As it stands right now, if the draft lottery played out according to points-percentage, the Senators would hold the fifth and sixth picks overall. With a draft class that is said to be deeper than most, two top-10 picks could still fetch this team the help it needs up front.
5. A roster shakeup is coming before the deadline
At some point in the coming weeks, Pierre Dorion is going to have to tackle some major issues with his roster. The only forwards under contract for next season are Tkachuk, Colin White and Logan Brown.
Nine players who were on the ice for Wednesday night’s win in Montreal are set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. In addition to that, they have another six players who are restricted free agents – including the likes of Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown and Chris Tierney.
Essentially, Dorion is going to have a great chance to shed some veteran players in the weeks ahead, allowing youngsters like Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Alex Formenton to come up and play NHL games. In theory, the Senators should have some growing pains when those kids get to the NHL level, meaning the chances of them consistently winning games should be decreased.
While some Sens fans might be worried that they’re in for another unsustainable and needless run to a playoff spot, it’s still far too early to be concerned about that scenario.
Instead, Ottawa fans should enjoy the win over Montreal and relish the fact that they’re not the laughingstock of the NHL any more.