Record: 43-26-13 (99 points), 4th in Atlantic Division (first wild card position)
Leading scorer: Erik Karlsson, 66 points
The impossible run: It was the talk of the NHL last season and surely something almost every hockey fan knows at this point. Sitting outside of the playoff picture in late February, and with injuries piling up, the Sens shocked the hockey world. Their historic streak started with a California sweep (the first in franchise history), culminating in a 23-4-4 in their final 31 games and clinching a playoff spot that seemed out of reach only months earlier.
Andrew Hammond: Leading the charge for much of Ottawa’s historic run was the man who, until he relieved Robin Lehner Feb. 16, had played only one prior NHL game. But by the end of the season Hammond had entered the NHL’s record books – going 15 games without a regulation loss (and 20-1-2 overall) – and the hearts of Sens fans, earning him the Hamburglar nickname that added to his lore.
Mark Stone: Almost as well-known as Hammond’s story is that of then 22-year-old rookie Mark Stone who came out of nowhere to be the catalyst of the Sens’ run. His 98 takeaways were tied for the league lead with Ryan O’Reilly and his 64 points led all rookies. More importantly, Stone had 31 points during Ottawa’s stretch run, including four game-winning-goals (and was only held pointless six times).
Subtractions: Robin Lehner (G), Eric Gryba (D), David Legwand (F), Erik Condra (F)
Additions: Matt O’Connor (G)
The Sens didn’t do much to change their roster in the off-season, which could work two ways: it could help maintain last season’s chemistry (an immeasurable factor in success), or the team’s failure to address issues that arose last season could be a detriment. Here’s position-by-position breakdown of the team heading into 2015/16:
Offence: With the exception of losing Legwand and Condra, the only difference with the offence this year is that it will have considerably more experience than it did in 2014/15. Stone, Curtis Lazar and Mike Hoffman were all rookies then – while Alex Chiasson was a sophomore – Jean-Gabriel Pageau had only 37 prior games to his credit and Mika Zibanejad was still just 21. Coupled with the veteran experience the team already possesses, the Sens look poised to repeat as a top-10 scoring team.
Defence: The loss of Gryba will be most evident in the team’s physical game, but for the most part the Sens’ defence once again looks to be a major strength. Bolstered by a top-four that includes Karlsson, Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch, youth will also be a defining characteristic on the back end. With the aforementioned four, along with two of Jared Cowen, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Wideman on the third pairing, coping with the loss of Gryba shouldn’t be an insurmountable task.
Goaltending: The Sens made a bold statement in the off-season when they traded away Lehner and signed Hammond to his first one-way contract. The move was something of a shock considering Lehner’s unofficial status as goalie of the future and Hammond’s significant lack of experience at the professional level. Especially given Craig Anderson’s recent injury-riddled past, there remains plenty of uncertainty for the Sens at the most important position on the ice. Goaltending shouldn’t have to carry the team as it has in recent seasons, but the big question is whether or not it can do enough to make the Sens a real threat.
Predictions for 2015/16
The Sens are still relatively young and inexperienced, but they’ve defied expectations the last few seasons, and what seasoning they did gain last season will pay off in 2015/16. Though not yet a top-two team in the Atlantic Division, the Sens will finish third with 101 points (just ahead of the Detroit Red Wings). And, as has been customary throughout his career, Erik Karlsson will once again lead the team in scoring, putting up 72 points.