Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saturday storylines: Looking ahead in the Battle of Ontario

It’s a relatively light Saturday night in the NHL, with only nine games of the schedule. Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary all go Friday/Sunday instead, but that still leaves us with four Canadian teams in action tonight.

Two of those Canadian teams are facing each other, so let’s start there while we all fight the nagging feeling that there was something the NHL was supposed to be doing right now…

HNIC Game of the Night: Senators at Maple Leafs

This is the third time this season that the Leafs and Senators have met on a Saturday night. The first time around, we looked at the Battle of Ontario and acknowledged that it isn’t what it once was. Last time, we focused on the fallout of the Dion Phaneuf trade. Those were worthwhile topics, but focused on the past. Let’s try something different today.

Unfortunately, “the present” doesn’t really work for these two teams. The Senators are a mess right now, and their fans are already well into trade-deadline mode, if not looking ahead to the draft lottery. And the Maple Leafs are in the fairly unique situation of basically knowing where they’re going to finish in the standings, even though there are still another nine weeks left to play.

So instead of the present, let’s focus on the future. This is the last meeting between the Leafs and Senators on this season’s schedule, and since we definitely won’t be getting a playoff matchup, that means we won’t see these two teams on the same ice again until sometime next season.

So what does that matchup look like? It’s going to be kind of fascinating to find out.

The big question, of course, is whether Erik Karlsson will be involved. The idea of the Senators trading Karlsson at some point between now and next season has gone from unthinkable to at least vaguely plausible over the course of the year, with occasional short-term gusts to “downright inevitable.” And if he does go, how many of the (presumably many) assets the Senators would get back would be in the lineup by next season, as opposed to years down the line?

Once you get through that process, you have to start wondering whether any other big-name Senators will also be elsewhere by the next time the team faces Toronto. Phaneuf? Mike Hoffman? Derick Brassard? Will Craig Anderson still be the undisputed starter? Mark Stone will almost certainly still be around, but how much will he be making on his new deal? Will Guy Boucher still be behind the bench?

And since that list of questions is getting kind of depressing from an Ottawa perspective, let’s end with one to perk up downcast Sens fans: The next time they face the Leafs, will they have No. 1–overall pick Rasmus Dahlin in the lineup?

From Toronto’s perspective, things feel a little more stable. But only somewhat so – by the next time they see Ottawa, the Leafs will need to have figured out what to do with James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. William Nylander will have a new contract, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner may or may not have signed extensions. Will there be a new big name anchoring the blue line? And will the team be coming off the sort of multi-round playoff run that has everyone excited about the future, or a first-round exit at the hands of the Bruins or Lightning that leaves the fan base feeling like the team is spinning its wheels?

That’s a lot of questions to ponder, and tonight’s game won’t provide many answers. But given that the final result on the scoreboard isn’t likely to matter all that much, it will be impossible for a hockey fan’s mind not to wander off into the future. Tonight will mark the 116th regular-season meeting in the modern Battle of Ontario; by the time we’re getting to work on writing the preview for the 117th, a lot of key pieces on both sides are going to be looking very different.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

No comments:

Post a Comment