“If we stay healthy or marginally healthy, we’re going to go deep.” ~ EM 9/11/13
Entering last season’s lockout shortened campaign, the Senators were coming off a season in which they lost a combined 43 man-games due to injury. It was the ninth lowest total amongst the NHL’s 30 teams and if you ignore the 12 games that Craig Anderson missed because his late night desires for some poultry, the team’s skaters only amassed 31 man-games lost due to injury.
Relative to their NHL peers, they were lucky and predictably, they didn’t share the same good fortune during the lockout shortened 2013 season.
In 48 games last season, the Senators reported 219 man games lost due to injury. In other words, despite the season shorter in length by 34 games, the Senators still experienced a 409-percent increase in man games lost due to injury.
Even though it was reasonable to expect Ottawa’s proportion of injuries to increase, no one anticipated the number and seriousness of the injuries that befell many of this team’s key players.
Through the benefit of a shortened campaign, low expectations, and by playing exclusively against weaker Eastern Conference opponents, the team, to its credit, overcame the injuries and knocked the Montreal Canadiens out of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
So, for the same reasons that fans expected Ottawa’s injury situation to normalize towards the league average, the expectation heading into this season was that the Senators and their better offensive players would be healthier.
From Melnyk’s quote that adorns the top of this piece to the organization marketing ticket sales around “a healthy Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson”, everyone was counting on improvement… on the ice.
The Senators have actually been incredibly healthy this season. *knock on wood*
Through the December 14th games, the Senators have only had 17 man games lost due to injury – which makes them the healthiest team in the league to date. For what it’s worth, the Senators also have the smallest Cap Hit of Injured Players (CHIP) in the league.
And should Ottawa’s position in the standings not improve soon, the only thing the Sens will be going deep in is the NHL Draft without a pick.
Reader @carteciel pointed out that Jeff Sagarin, a MIT educated statistician renowned for “his development of a methodology for ranking and rating sports teams in a variety of sports,” has used his methodology to show how “easy” Ottawa’s schedule has been.
At the time of his tweet, Ottawa had the third easiest schedule in the NHL by Sagarin’s. Since that time, the Senators’ strength of schedule has now become the sixth easiest in the league.
So although Ottawa’s PDO – a metric that simply combines a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage and historically has been shown to regress towards 100 over time – currently registers at 98.6-percent, because of the team’s ability to avoid injury and their ease of schedule, it’s not like this team has been that unlucky.
Fortunately, if there is some silver lining, it’s the possibility that management’s adherence to Melnyk’s strict internal cap could potentially be saving this organization from itself.
The last thing that fans should want to see is management make some short-sighted, kneejerk reaction using this small sample size of games as a barometer to evaluate this roster. And if anything, time has shown that management’s best moves have come when they were proactive and not reactive.
Perhaps the best thing the organization can do is be patient and continue to evaluate this team’s core before determining which path is best to build this team and steer it away from simply being satisfied with playoff appearances.
The difficulty in Ottawa’s situation is that they will never be big players in free agency. In consequence, the organization’s success is predicated on how they control and manage their current assets.
Preaching the importance of and heavily investing in scouting and player development will be essential to this team’s success, but payroll allocation and maximizing the trade return of assets is equally as important.
Despite ownership’s delight and enthusiasm over how quickly Ottawa’s rebuild took, maybe this process was always going to be a lot more difficult than we wanted to admit. And if anything, what we are experiencing now is a humble reminder that building a winner is more difficult than tearing down a loser.