Ottawa Senators players celebrate a victory. (Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)
Thanks to goaltender Andrew Hammond, the Senators went on an unthinkable run to close out the 2014-15 campaign and made the post-season. Ottawa’s youthful offense is underrated at times and could catch some off guard. The Senators have all the makings of a team that will challenge for the post-season in 2015-16.2014-15 Record: 43-26-13 (99 Pts.) THN’s Prediction: 4th, Atlantic Division What To Expect: Certainly, the Sens’ upcoming season won’t be as wild as 2014-15. With terminally ill GM Bryan Murray looking down from the press box, his team orchestrated a 23-4-4 finish, snagging the seventh seed on the final day of the season, on the back of a no-name goaltender. Andrew Hammond’s moniker, ‘The Hamburglar,’ is now ubiquitous in Ottawa after the Senators’ miraculous run. Ottawa went 32-15-8 under coach Dave Cameron after he took over for Paul MacLean in December. The Senators enter 2015-16 with the roster mostly unchanged, albeit with expectations heightened significantly. They’ll once again be right on the cusp of a playoff spot until the final week of the season. Whether they’re in or out will be decided by a handful of points. With the ninth-best offense last season, Ottawa boasted five 20-goal scorers, not including Bobby Ryan, who had 18. The forwards are propelled by the game’s best offensive defenseman, Erik Karlsson. The 2015 Norris Trophy winner led the Sens in scoring with 66 points. Mark Stone and Kyle Turris should again hit the 60-point mark, while Ryan, Clarke MacArthur and Mike Hoffman are 50-point threats. Shane Prince could make an impact as a rookie after 65 points in AHL Binghamton. Behind the top defense pair of Karlsson and Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch emerged as a reliable tandem. New to the mix is Chris Wideman, 25, who’ll compete for a spot with Mark Borowiecki, Jared Cowen and Chris Phillips. Wideman had 61 points in the AHL and was named the league’s top D-man. Anchored by Karlsson, the power play can improve on last season’s bottom-third showing. The Senators had an above-average penalty kill, which remains intact. There will no longer be a crowded crease, at least to open the season. Craig Anderson starts as the No. 1 and is backed up by Hammond. College standout Matt O’Connor begins his Senators career in Binghamton and will be groomed into an NHL starter. Best-Case Scenario: There are a lot of good, young players in Ottawa and the end of the 2014-15 campaign could be a sign of things to come for the Senators. With Hoffman, Stone, Ryan and the possibility of a breakout year from Prince, the Senators could shock teams that underestimate their offense. They’re not going to win the Stanley Cup, but making the playoffs and advancing to the second round could be a possibility. Worst-Case Scenario: If Anderson and Hammond can’t hold the fort, the Senators could be finding themselves in the top-10 of the draft instead of the post-season. Should both Anderson and Hammond fail in goal, Ottawa could be regretting shipping Robin Lehner to the Buffalo Sabres, too. Missing the post-season won’t crush the Senators’ faithful or cause a massive rebuild, but it’s a real possibility if the goaltending aren't equal to the task. Who To Watch: Hammond is far and away the most interesting player on the Senators this season. He’s coming off one of the most remarkable seasons in recent memory and he captured headlines with his brilliant stretch of play. But now the question is whether he can keep it going into 2015-16. Of goaltenders to play more than 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 in 2014-15, Hammond posted the third-best save percentage, .941, behind Carey Price and Steve Mason. Hammond won’t be expected to repeat that performance, but the Senators are relying on him to at least keep the net battle in Ottawa competitive. What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn): Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Senators won’t need to rely on anymore miracles this season as they appear to be a genuinely good – but not great – team that should be a legitimate threat for a playoff spot. ‘The Hamburglar’ stole the show down the stretch, but the renaissance started when new coach Dave Cameron started playing the kids. The emergence of players like Stone and Hoffman bolstered the team’s depth and while they’re still very green, they’ll be the catalysts for the Senators again this season. The team has a very strong top six that’s well balanced and should get a boost from a bounce-back season from Ryan. This could also be the year that we see Mika Zibanejad emerge as a number one center as his numbers suggest he’s ready for a bigger role on the team. There’s no superstars amidst the top 12, but there’s still a decent mix at Ottawa’s disposal. Where the Sens really shine is on the back-end thanks to a strong top four lead by Karlsson, who unsurprisingly has the best projected WAR among all defensemen. The five and six slots are slightly problematic for the Senators, but it’s hardly enough to dampen the strength of the group as a whole. They’ll be tasked with protecting a rather fragile goaltending duo. Anderson is now 34 and much of his negative projection is a product of that. Hammond was abysmal in the AHL and it’s likely he regresses to that level rather than his astonishing NHL numbers. Half a win is probably way too optimistic here, but we can’t completely ignore what he’s done at the NHL level, even if it’s a small sample size. Goaltending needs to be steady and could be the difference between whether Ottawa is in or out. THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.