There are numerous questions to be asked about the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators but none more intriguing than the ones circling around the current youth movement. Ottawa is going to be looking a lot younger than most teams next year and it is debatable whether or not that’s a good thing.
If you’re looking at the Ottawa Senators in the long run, there’s nothing to be worried about. Promising young players like Cody Ceci, Curtis Lazar and Mark Stone are more than enough to feel comfortable about the team’s core in a few years. But next season is a different story. The Senators are caught between the desire to make a run for the playoffs and the opportunity for a quick and almost painless rebuild.
“I think we can contend for the playoffs. That’s got to be the goal – to get to the dance.” – David Legwand. Ottawa Sun. Published: Jul. 4, 2014.
“I think we’ve got a definite playoff team and not just a playoff team, I feel we’ve got a group that can make a run in the playoffs.” – Kyle Turris. Ottawa Sun. Published: Jul. 11, 2014.
Alright, no rebuild. Playoffs it is.
The Senators aren’t delusional, this team can definitely contend for a playoff spot. I’d just rather have the facts out there before everyone buys their tickets for the postseason.
Currently, the Senators are the 4th youngest team in the league. After signing Robin Lehner to a 3-year contract, they are now only behind Columbus, Winnipeg and Edmonton with an average age of 27.5. Last season, only 1 out of 7 of the youngest teams made the playoffs, while 4 out of 5 of the oldest teams made the playoffs.
Just like the rest of the team, the forwards have no shortage of youth. The average age on the front line is 26.3, 2 years below the league average (28.3). On top of that, Ottawa has the 9th youngest first line in the NHL. Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur headline a forward group that has 6 players who are 24 and under. The departure of 30-year old Ales Hemsky and 31-year old Jason Spezza didn’t exactly help in the age department and if 19-year old Curtis Lazar ends up making the team this year, the forwards get even younger.
Ottawa’s defense squad may just be the prime example of their true age group. The average age on the back line is 25.7, 2.6 years below the league average. With Chris Phillips being the only defenseman in his thirties, Ottawa has 6 players who are 26 and under. The young and developing defense group was mostly blamed for the team’s poor goals against total last season. Inexperience was the excuse given for bad positioning and countless giveaways. The Senators gave up 265 goals, good enough for 27th in the league.
Even with the average age decreasing every year, the teams that seem to be winning have their fair share of veterans. If Ottawa is going to make a serious run for the postseason this year, their young guns are going to have to grow up and grow up fast.
Mark Stone (22) and Mika Zibanejad (21) are two guys that could be top 6 forwards next season. Stone is set to have his first full NHL season as he is a shoe in to crack the roster at the end of training camp. The solid left winger had 38 points in 54 games in his first season in the AHL last year and is looking to carry that success on with the big club. Mika Zibanejad had career highs in every offensive category last year, despite starting the year in the AHL and he is more than on his was to being a solidified 20-goal scorer. Zibanejad had 16 goals in 69 games playing on Ottawa’s 3rd line. Now with the possibility of being the number two centre, he should have another career year for production, definitely 20-plus goals.
Stone and Zibanejad are good guys to lean on. They are young, but they have matured in every way and I like the idea of them leading the youth while also having good years for production.
The team isn’t all kids, I promise. The older guys like Craig Anderson, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips are still there and will provide some much needed leadership when dealing with a young team. The Senators also signed 33-year old David Legwand this summer, a veteran player who has good scoring ability but also knows what it takes to lead a team. Legwand spent 15 years with the Nashville predators where he was an assistant captain for a good period of time and is currently the franchise leader in goals, assists and points.
Being a young team shouldn’t worry the Senators too much, though. Everyone remembers how well they coped with numerous injuries in the 2012-13 season. The team was basically half NHL, half AHL players and the coaching squad was able to manage with what they were dealt. Ottawa ended up making it past the first round of the playoffs that year, so who knows what could happen next season.