From Toronto last week, we head East to make a stop in the Nation’s Capital. Ottawa has embarked on a rebuild after an incredibly disappointing season in 2010-11. There are a number of new faces expected in the lineup, most of whom are homegrown talents who saw some action last season.
Projected 2011-12 Lineup
|B Butler||J Spezza
|N Filatov||P Regin||M Michalek|
|C Neil||Z Smith||N Foligno|
|E Condra||Z Konopka||C Greening|
The biggest decision for Bryan Murray and Paul MacLean to make in training camp will be the 2nd line centre role. Three suitors for the role will be Regin, Zibanejad and Da Costa. Two of these players have other options while Regin is on a one way deal. Regin had the job for much of last season and didn’t fare well, but will likely be given the opportunity to lose the job in camp. Jason Spezza finally showed an overall maturity in the latter part of the season, but it is time to show it when there is something on the line. In what could be his swan song, captain Daniel Alfredsson would like to go out on a high note, much better than the career low 31 points he put up in an injury plagued season in 2010-11.
|S Gonchar||E Karlsson|
|C Phillips||J Cowen|
The whole defense corps is coming off a season to forget. Phillips, Karlsson, Gonchar and Kuba had nightmare seasons in their own end, much of which had to do with sub-standard goaltending. After Anderson arrived in Ottawa to solidify the team between the pipes, the defensive posture of this group changed dramatically. Gonchar was +1 in 10 games (-15 on the season), Phillips -10 in 25 games (-35 overall), Karlsson was -1 in 19 games (-30 overall), and Kuba was even in 24 games (-26 overall) since Anderson assumed the Ottawa net. Newcomers Rundblad and Cowen fill different roles and will likely push Brian Lee and Matt Carkner to the sidelines as part time players (or in Lee’s case Binghamton). Carkner adds a dimension of toughness that no other blueliner in Ottawa does.
Craig Anderson stepped in and in his 20 odd starts provided some hope for this season. If his promise comes to fruition, Ottawa may have found the true #1 netminder that they have been looking for since….1992. Auld was brought back in a true backup capacity and if Anderson should succumb to an injury, Robin Lehner would be brought up to take over the starting role.
Rookie To Watch For
David Rundblad was considered to be the best player outside the NHL by many so called experts. How he handles the transition to the North American game early on will determine if he sticks in Ottawa or spends some time in Binghamton like countryman Erik Karlsson did. By all indications, Rundblad is ready for prime time and could be a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
Three Burning Questions
1. What else can go wrong?
2010-11 was the year that wasn’t in Ottawa. Injuries to key players, horrible goaltending and questionable coaching led to the worst Senators season in some time, perhaps ever given the expectations. Out with the old, in with the new, from coaching to players and it can’t get any worse, can it?
2. How will Paul MacLean handle his first NHL head coaching job?
If the press conference announcing his hiring is any indication, MacLean will be a 180° departure from Cory Clouston. That is exactly what this team needs, and as long as he can to the line of being demanding yet fair, MacLean should have success. He has something that Clouston didn’t have for much of his tenure, and that is a true #1 goaltender.
3. How long will it take?
Since making the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, the Senators have missed the playoffs twice and have been first round fodder twice. The youth movement presently afoot in Ottawa will take some time to mature, but the nucleus is in place to have a solid foundation. A 2-3 year wait for a return to prominence is reasonable, but they should be able to at least be competitive and in the mix for a playoff spot this season.