The Ottawa Senators had 99 points last season and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, before a crushing 3-2 loss in double overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Oilers produced a 103-point campaign last year and lost in game seven of the Pacific Division Final to the Anaheim Ducks.
The Oilers were expected to be competitive, and while Ottawa had a few question marks to start the season, mainly the health of their best player Erik Karlsson, no one expected the Senators and Oilers to be this far out of a playoff race. But here we are.
The Oilers are in 24th place with 69 points and the Senators sit in 28th spot with 63 points. Both teams have had brutally disappointing seasons.
Despite their similar positions in the standings, these two organizations look very different.
The Senators players who are 24 and under include Cody Ceci (356 games), Thomas Chabot (54), Ben Harpur (46), Nick Paul (36), Colin White (17) and Filip Chlapik (11). Ceci is a proven NHL defender and many are very high on Chabot, but the Senators don’t have many younger players who look poised to become big contributors right away.
They have aging veterans in Marian Gaborik and Alex Burrows who are 36, and Bobby Ryan at 31 with only eight goals and a $7.25 million cap hit for four years. Gaborik has three years remaining on his deal.
The Oilers, on paper at least, look like they should be able to bounce back next season. Their under-24 group includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, Matt Benning, Jujhar Khaira, Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Pontus Aberg, Ethan Bear and Kailer Yamamoto. They also have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and Ryan Strome who will be 25 years of age next season.
Edmonton should have good players considering all the top picks they’ve had recently, in addition to some expensive veteran contracts in Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell, but the Senators were one goal away from the Stanley Cup final last May, and there are not many reasons to believe they will be close to that again for a long time. Their other concern is a contract extension for two-time Norris trophy winner, and the highest scoring D-man in the NHL over the past nine seasons, Erik Karlsson.
Since entering the NHL, Karlsson has scored 512 points in 622 games — spectacular numbers. He is the most exciting defencemen in the game. The only other D-men over 400 points are Brent Burns, 440 points in 626 games, Keith Yandle, 415 in 695 games, Duncan Keith, 414 in 665 games and Dustin Byfuglien with 413 points in 641 games. Burns and Byfuglien played some of those games as a forward.
Karlsson’s camp will tell the Senators in June if he plans to sign an extension or not. If he doesn’t, then they will have to trade him and likely it happens at, or near the NHL draft. He’d be highly sought-after, and with only one year before he can walk away, I don’t see the Senators winning the trade. Sadly for them, getting a solid return will be a win.
Oilers fans are frustrated in how the season has unfolded, and rightfully so, and so are Senators fans. But the concern in Ottawa is much different. They don’t have young skilled players like the Oilers, and with their franchise player’s future undecided, their 2017 playoff run could look eerily similar to the Oilers run in 2006.
It was a great run, but the fallout after was brutal. The Senators organization needs to find a way not to repeat what happened to the Oilers after they traded away their franchise defenceman in Chris Pronger.
Todd McLellan said he expects to use the same lineup as in Carolina, which is odd considering the Oilers recalled Brad Malone on an emergency basis. They would need two forwards injured, since Mike Cammalleri was a healthy scratch on Tuesday, in order for Malone to play. It really doesn’t matter at this point, but I found that interesting.
McDavid’s line had a tough matchup versus Jordan Staal’s line in Carolina on Tuesday, but the Senators don’t have a line that compares. I expect McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins will be poised for a strong bounce-back game.
Erik Karlsson and his wife lost their son earlier this week. He was stillborn. So many couples have lost a baby at three months, six months or even full-term, and it is devastating. It doesn’t sound like he will play again tonight. Christian Wolanin will make his NHL debut on the Senators blueline and that means one of the Oilers top-three lines will face him and Harpur fairly often. That is a matchup they will try and exploit.
I wonder how many other teams have had three former 30-goal scorers in their bottom six? Gaborik scored 40+ goals three times and 30+ four times. He has 11 goals this season. Bobby Ryan produced four consecutive 31+ goals seasons from 2009-2012, but only has eight goals this year, while Alex Burrows had 35 goals in 2010 and has five this season. Burrows and Gaborik are 36 years of age while Ryan is 31. An odd combination of age and former goal-scoring touch all in the bottom six.
Craig Anderson turns 37 years old in May. He is 21-21-6 with a .900sv% and a 3.26 GAA. The Senators signed him to a two-year extension on September 29th, 2017. Signing a goalie for two years at age 37 and 38 is a risk, and right now it is not looking good for them. I would never rush to sign older players to extensions before playing out the final year of their deal.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
With the end of the regular season approaching and playoffs on the horizon, it’s hard to find two more disappointing teams than the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers.
Both were coming off surprisingly long playoff runs during the 2016/2017 season and both have taken a huge step back this year.
And while some were pretty quick to dismiss Ottawa’s year as a bit of a good fortune, Edmonton’s struggles have caught just about everyone off guard. Except for maybe Oilers fans.
Most of the experts weren’t talking about IF Connor McDavid would win a Stanley Cup but rather how many he would win before his career was out. Reality hit the Oilers in a big way this season. McDavid is still one of if not the best player in the league but he hasn’t been able to drag that team back to the level they reached last year.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers win their third game on this four game swing, downing the Senators 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Senators have scored first a league-low 28 times (15-9-4), while the Oilers have scored first in only 29 games (18-8-3). Oilers score first for the 30th time in 74 games.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid scores his first career goal versus the Senators. He was goalless in his first five, but buries one tonight leaving only Boston, New Jersey and Winnipeg as opposing teams he hasn’t scored against.
Take home a growler, a crowler, a sixer, a mixer, whatever. Sherbrooke Liquor. Where’s Your Beer?