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Could the Senators Surprise in a Canadian Division?

October 31, 2020, 11:10 PM ET [45 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
All signs are pointing towards an all-Canadian division being in play for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season, which isn’t really a surprise given the border closure with the United States. For the Ottawa Senators, that would mean saying goodbye to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings, while simultaneously greeting the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets.

So, what would such a shakeup mean to the Ottawa Senators? Is it a blessing or a curse? My immediate gut feeling is that it provides them with an opportunity to surprise a lot of people in 2020-21. While the loss of divisional games against the Panthers, Sabres, and Red Wings might look troubling on the surface, pairing it with freedom from the Lightning and Bruins comes with some serious perks. None of the Western Canadian teams can match what those two squads bring to the ice on any given night. The toughest Canadian challenge is likely the Maple Leafs, and the Senators are already intimately familiar with them.

The natural next step was to test my theory against some basic data. While a direct comparison is impossible, given roster turnover during the offseason, a look at the 2019-20 numbers should provide at least a base level of insight:


Aggregating data like this isn’t the best kind of statistical analysis, but it does provide some evidence to suggest that the move to a Canadian division isn’t going to make things materially more difficult for the Senators. If anything, the road to success might even be a little bit easier.

That conclusion is bolstered by some contextual factors. The Red Wings went out and signed some competent NHL players this offseason. The Sabres got Taylor Hall. On the flip side, the Canadian teams out West didn’t do much to suggest that they can be miles ahead of where they were last year. The Canucks, in particular, look as though they’re going to take a not-insignificant step backwards.

Combine all this with Ottawa’s plan to integrate a lot of really talented youth this upcoming year, and it’s hard not to think that they might be able to surprise some people. To clarify, that doesn’t mean that I expect them to go on a Stanley Cup run or even make the postseason, but it does mean that I expect them to look a lot more competitive than they did in 2019-20. They’ll face some favorable matchups with a much-improved roster. The bottom line: It should be a fun season to watch.

As always, thanks for reading.
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