They're quite different from last season's series, which featured a rewinding of a key highlight and asking the question "What if...?" It spawned many fan-made ads, like this one for last season's top Senator highlight.
Since playoffs aren't in this year's picture, let me tackle this year's question. “What if the Senators had rolled out this exact lineup on opening night?” Would they still be a lottery team?
Interesting question, (Steve congratulated himself). This lineup, as is, continues to impress the hell out of its fan base. I really thought the energy they drew from the changes and influx of youth would only be temporary. Not the case. This group has now been together for a quarter of a season and it's generally been playing competitive hockey every night.
Improved goaltending has been everything. It was so bad in the year 2010 B.A. - Before Anderson - they basically went into each game down a goal or two. The skaters always looked skittish, particularly the defence. Everyone knew if they made a mistake, the dude in the mask wasn't going to help much. Anderson has stabilized the position and the team's confidence.
But it's been more than Anderson's addition. I think the Sens also needed the shakeup. For example, Alexei Kovalev just had to be removed. He was paid to be an offensive leader. It had to be frustrating for the players to see so much talent in practice and so little interest, effort or production in games. Side note: Marek Svatos, for one tenth the cost, has two more goals (3) than Kovalev has scored in Pittsburgh (1).
The other big deletions involved good third and fourth liners - Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, and Jarkko Ruutu - guys who never hurt you but weren't living up to their paycheques. The Fisher deal in particular was like a jolt from a defibrillator for a lifeless bunch. Since making that trade, the Sens have gone 12-7-2. Parlayed over a full season, that's a pace that would crack 100pts. Presto! Playoff numbers.
Some - like my Team 1200 colleague Jason York - will rightly point out that it's easier to play when your team is out of it - no pressure. I agree; pressure can kill. But I don't agree that it's been a completely pressure-free situation. Anderson was playing for a contract. The younger guys - if they stunk - might get buried in Binghamton, never to return.
Even in an apparent rebuild - which may end up being less painful than we thought - It's certainly tough not to be excited for next season. You take the best of this group and add a healthy Daniel Alfredsson, David Rundblad, Jared Cowen and maybe a couple of free agents. Hey, maybe they'll be back in the game sooner than we think.