Season Preview: Ottawa Senators
Having lost a second Captain in two years, and with some of the tightest financial restrictions of any club in the NHL, Ottawa enters the 2014/15 season in a somewhat strange position.
Many consider the Senators to be closer to the lottery draft than the play-offs. With talent on the roster, and a young core, does the organisation seek to make a return to the post season? Or should they turn their attention to Messrs McDavid and Eichel?
After 11 years in Ottawa, Jason Spezza requested a trade during the offseason – and was duly dispatched to Dallas. The 2nd overall pick in 2001, Spezza became the second team Captain to leave the Canadian capital in the space of two years – following fan favourite Daniel Alfredsson out the door.
With Bobby Ryan entering the last year of his present deal, GM Bryan Murray has some big decisions to make regarding the former Ducks winger. Ryan is only 27 and a capable scorer, but could garner a strong return if Murray chooses to trade him, despite his post-Olympic snub slump. The tea leaves suggest Ottawa would like to keep the four time 30 goal scorer, but the situation may change as the year progresses of Ottawa slide down the standings and one, or both, parties feels the better bet is to move Ryan.
25-year old Kyle Turris had a career high 26 goals and 57 points last season, but the jury is out as to whether he is a #1 centre. Whilst Turris led the team in goals, it was the first time he played a full 82 games schedule, broke 20 goals or 50 points. The expectation is that he will improve again, but the additional pressure of being the clubs go to centre adds an additional test for the New Westminster native to overcome.
Turris is just 25 though, and along with Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson, acquired from Dallas as part of the deal for Spezza, there is hope for Sens fans moving forward.
Veteran Dave Legwand joins on a 2-year deal, adding experience down the middle, whilst Clarke MacArthur has established himself as a solid NHL winger. But the club will be hoping for more from Milan Michálek this year.
At The Back
Dynamic blue liner Erik Karlsson remains the ace in the Sens pack. Leading the team with 74 points last season (including 20 goals), the Swede may still have some questions to answer defensively but has become one of the most potent offensive D men in the game today.
Cody Ceci and Jared Cowan are still learning their craft, but show signs of developing in to good NHL blue liners, but Patrick Wiercioch took what many felt to be a step backwards last season after a promising rookie campaign.
Veteran Chris Phillips begins his seventeenth season with the club, while an extension for 29-year old Marc Methot is apparently in the works.
Between The Pipes
Ottawa surprised many by signing Craig Anderson to a new 3-year deal this summer. It looked as though Robin Lehner was on the cusp of taking the #1 job from the former Colorado and Florida stopper, but the move does seem to allow the 23-year old Swede additional time to develop.
If Lehner can continue to make strides, Anderson could still be moved at a later date, but for now it seems a prudent move to keep the Illinois native in the fold to provide both guidance and some form of reliability for a franchise in a difficult position right now.
Behind The Bench
Entering his third season as Senators coach, Paul MacLean has his work cut out for him.
Minus Spezza, Ottawa are a weaker team than they were last season – when they missed the cut by 5 points. But a young core does give MacLean something to move forward with and the bricks to start building towards a better future for the organisation.
Biggest Addition – David Legwand
Choices were slim, given the Sens self imposed financial constraints, but Legwand is a veteran presence to flesh out the bottom six and guide Turris, Zibanejad and co over the next two seasons.
Biggest Loss – Jason Spezza
With the fifth highest points per game average among active players, Spezza became an integral part of the Senators before tiring of the considerable criticism he took when the team slumped.
Question marks linger over how well he has recovered from a serious back injury, but his 66 points in 75 games last year will be tough to replace.
Key Man – Erik Karlsson
On a team with questionable offensive ability, Karlsson’s role as quarter back is as important as ever.
If Ottawa is to have any hope of competing, they need the talented blue liner to score big, and help enable a quick transition to give the Sens forwards every opportunity to do the same.
This Seasons Chances…
After missing the play-offs by 5 points last year, and then getting weaker by virtue of losing Spezza and ‘rental’ Ales Hemsky over the summer, it’s hard to see Ottawa as a play-off team come the spring.
Whether they opt to extend Bobby Ryan’s stay with the club, or use him to trigger a rebuild, Senators fans might be better off tracking Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel’s numbers than the teams progress this season.