James Gordon has an interesting post showing that Ottawa, despite their lack of movement up the standings, is improving from a puck possession point of view and should that trend continue, the results will begin to favour their record.
This logic is simply an extension of the well documented expecation that the Toronto Maple Leafs' place in the standings will normalize because teams that display better puck possession prowess simply tend to win more games.
Despite improvements in their overall on-ice play, Ottawa's not winning consistently enough to make their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings. And although it is only the month of December, expecting more wins from the Senators later will not matter if this team does not start winning now.
At the moment, the Sens have 27 points in 30 games, which essentially puts them in a position in which they have to win more than 30 games of their 52 remaining games to give themselves in the slimmest of chances to grab one of the two Wild Card playoff seeds.
Via sportsclubstats, here is how their chances to clinch a playoff position breakdown:
|Points||Record||Playoff Probability||Point %|
So there's a 55.7% chance that a spot can be clinched with 91 points, but to truly feel comfortable, the Sens probably have to finish with as many as 94 points to get in. Who wants to bet on this group playing .644 hockey for the next 52 games?
It feels wrong to write off a team that has been so resilient over the past two seasons and had so many come from behind victories, but mathematically speaking, this season is probably already over. That sound you'll hear is the Anaheim Ducks fans applauding because Ottawa's 2014 first round pick will become a lottery ticket that gives them an opportunity to get the first overall selection.
Missing the playoffs will assuredly spark some discussion on whether it was prudent for the organization to move futures and the accompanying years of team control to acquire Bobby Ryan. One reader even pointed out on Twitter that Bryan Murray should have protected the pick a la Garth Snow when the Islanders' GM acquired Thomas Vanek earlier this season.
We'll never truly know whether the organization strictly made the Ryan trade to save face and satiate a fan base that had inexplicably just seen Daniel Alfredsson sign a contract with the Detroit Red Wings, but it remains to be seen whether Ottawa made a smart trade. Barring Ryan testing UFA in 2015, the opportunity still exists for the team to re-sign Ryan when he's eligible to sign an extension as early as this summer. If they can, great. If not, the opportunity still exists to flip him in a separate move and based off his production this season, his value will assuredly be higher than it was last summer. In any case, it's still too early to start worrying about whether Ottawa 'lost this deal'.
The real test is here determining what this team is. Under Paul MacLean, the Senators have established themselves as an above average puck possession team and the underlying numbers this season, as James Gordon mentioned, are starting to turn in their favour more frequently.
Conversely, maybe we have overestimated the quality of their roster thanks to the team exceeding expectations in a lockout shortened season while playing exclusively against inferior Eastern Conference teams. And maybe it was naive to believe that players coming off major injuries like Spezza, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and (to a much lesser extent) Erik Karlsson, could all play at levels similar to their pre-injury forms.
Whatever the case, we're at a juncture in this organization's retooling/rebuilding/(insert whatever buzz word the organization want to use to market their direction) in which it's critical for the Senators to assess their situation and determine how to take their franchise from a perennial bubble team to one of the NHL's elite. Sadly, I'm just not sure I have the confidence in ownership to be willing to accept that the organization may have to take a step back to take two steps forward.