Originally posted on The 6th Sens  |  Last updated 2/7/12

 

With the Senators in the midst of their first six-game losing streak this season, the best defense that is being played in Ottawa these days is the utilization of the phrase, ‘Meh, the Senators are just a rebuilding team’.

Fortunately for the Senators, they’ve accumulated such a point cushion – through their sheer volume of games played and an 8-0-1 record from December 31st through January 14th – that they can absorb this recent stretch of poor play without falling too far out of the playoff race. Barring some miraculous hot stretch from teams like the Jets, Lightning or Islanders, it’s safe to assume that Ottawa will be competing with five teams -- the Leafs, Capitals, Panthers and Devils -- for one of the Eastern Conference’s bottom four playoff spots.

Unfortunately with their win last night, Toronto has passed Ottawa in the standings and with Washington only three points behind and with three games in hand (****, at this point in the season, you’d be hard pressed to find another team that doesn’t have games in hand on the Senators), they’re probably soon to follow. Ottawa could quickly find itself in ninth place in the Eastern Conference within short order.

Using James Mirtle’s 93 point projection for what it should take to make it into the Eastern Conference playoffs, here’s what record each of the aforementioned five teams would need to reach this threshold:

  • With 31 remaining games, Florida would need to go 17-14-0 (.548).
  • With 30 remaining games, Washington would need to go 17-12-1 (.583).
  • With 29 remaining games, Toronto would need to go 15-13-1 (.534).
  • With 30 remaining games, New Jersey would need to go 15-15-0 (.500).
  • And finally, with 27 remaining games, Ottawa would need to go 16-11-0 (.593)

But Ottawa’s position in the standings matters not. Thanks to a lack of expectations, the fans and media have been able to rely on this ‘rebuilding’ coping mechanism whenever we have had to suffer through any stretch of poor on-ice play. Yet, for whatever reason, when it comes time to evaluate how this philosophy may impact what the organization may or may do at this year’s NHL Trade Deadline, the media and blogosphere have generally avoided the subject of Ottawa actually becoming sellers at the deadline.

It’s almost as if there’s this paradox in which we’re ready to slap the ‘rebuild’ tag on anything that flatters what the organization has done to this point but there’s an aversion to use the same word whenever it carries some negative undertone. (Maybe this is the reason why some have refrained from mentioning that the risk of missing the playoffs has become a very realistic possibility.) It’s akin to the Prohibitionists dissecting the Bible and attributing positive and negative connotations to the use of the word wine. Whenever it carries positive connotations, it’s ‘grape juice’ and conversely, it’s ‘alcohol’ whenever it has negative consequences. It’s like we’re willing to use the ‘rebuild’ term whenever it’s befitting of the situation.

Despite the fact that ownership has already publically emphasized the importance of building a club that can achieve sustained success and creating a large enough window of opportunity to contend and give the team its best chance at a Cup, that hasn’t stopped some rumour mongers from incorrectly labeling Ottawa as a buyer (knock on wood). Assuming that the organization finds itself outside of the playoff picture by the NHL Trade Deadline on February 27th, I would like to believe that the organization will gauge the market leading up to the Deadline and have the best available offers ready for some of its veteran assets in the event that the team falls out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Even though Bryan Murray has come out and said that he’s not worried about the possibility of the team falling out of contention because its players work too hard, there are some significant factors that are worthy of attention:

Is Fatigue a Problem?

Thanks to the experience of last season’s Calder Cup championship run, many of this team’s ‘energy players’ have played a significant number of games over the last season and a half. Zack Smith has played in 155 games. Jared Cowen in 140 games for Ottawa, Spokane and Binghamton. Kaspars Daugavins has played in 142 games. Erik Condra has played in 158 games. Colin Greening has appeared in 161 games. And finally, Bobby Butler has appeared in 137. On the other hand, a number of veteran players are coming off injury shortened campaigns. Last season, Jason Spezza played in 62 games. Milan Michalek played in 66. Daniel Alfredsson appeared in 54. Sergei Gonchar appeared in 67. Filip Kuba appeared in 64 and Craig Anderson played in 51 games.

Perhaps more interestingly, with news from practice that Anderson will be making his 18th consecutive start tonight against the Blues; at what point do we wonder whether the netminder will burn out from the heavy workload?

Statistical Regression

Throughout most of the first half of the season, the Mike Fisher EffectTM had taken hold of the fan base and everyone was smitten with the production that players like Nick Foligno, Michalek and Smith were providing. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, these players have seen their shooting percentages regress to something that more closely resembles their career norms. In fact, as a team their shooting percentage currently rests at 9.1-percent (15th best) up more than one percent from last year’s 28th ranked 8.0-percent.

Similarly, despite the fans’ recent protests about the quality of officiating of late, the Senators have benefitted from a significant jump in the number of power play opportunities that they have received to this point. After receiving the second fewest number of power play opportunities last season, the Sens currently have the twelfth most number of power play chances this season. This huge spike in power play opportunities could even help explain why Ottawa has had so many third period come-from-behind victories. As the website Sabermetric Research indicates, the teams that lead in the third period are more likely to have penalties called against them than the teams that are trailing.

Finally…

Like it or not, there are more than enough red flags to question what route would serve Ottawa’s best interests as we approach the NHL Trade Deadline. Unless Ottawa can turn things around quickly and string together some wins, the Senators may be best served parlaying some expendable veterans and non-core pieces in an effort to horde draft picks and prospects that it could in turn keep or move in a trade package to acquire better young talent that can help its youth.

Other News of Pithy Importance

  • Take it for what it’s worth but Icethetics is reporting that they are hearing rumours that the Senators could be replacing their white road jersey.
  • Corey Pronman from Hockey Prospectus has posted his Top 50 Draft Eligible Prospect List. Of note, Mikhail Grigorenko has usurped Nail Yakupov as the top rated prospect.
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