Senators Last Season: Despite most expert analysis and predictions, the Senators exceeded expectations in almost every facet of the game last year. Riding a career year from Jason Spezza and a breakout season from Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (pictured below), Ottawa was able to take the top seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the first round. A re-invigorated Daniel Alfredsson, along with Jack Adams nominee Paul Maclean, led a club that was hard working and fought for every period of every game. Timely, if not always spectacular, goaltending was enough to get Ottawa into the playoffs, but HC Maclean was the real catalyst. Despite some early season hiccups, notably with Spezza, Maclean was able to get the Senators to buy into what he was selling. Now the question remains whether this is a flash in the pan or the beginnings of something special in our nation’s capital.
UFA’s: Jesse Winchester (C/LW), Zenon Konopka (C/LW), Filip Kuba (D), Matt Gilroy (D), Matt Carkner (D), Alex Auld (G).
RFA’s: Nick Foligno (LW), Jim O’Brien (RW), Kaspars Daugavins (LW).
The Draft: The Senators used their first selection in the draft to select local Ottawa 67’s defenseman, Cody Ceci. Likely not ready for at least a year if not two, Ceci addresses what looks to be a hole in the organization’s defense. Although, with only 4 NHL caliber defenseman under contract for next season, Ceci will be able to get a real good look in training camp. The 67’s blue liner is another defenseman in this year’s draft possessing a bullet from the point but his physical play will have to be brought to a new level if he’s looking to succeed in the NHL from day one.
General Manager Bryan Murray seemed to be loosely involved in the Rick Nash trade talks that some thought may have materialized a little more on the draft floor. Murray may remain in conversations with Columbus but the possibility of Nash landing in Ottawa seems slim.
Summer Movement: As mentioned earlier, the Sens have one big gaping hole on the blue line that they will try and fill next season. Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar, Jared Cowen and Chris Phillips make up a defensive core that will need some assistance through free agency or on the summer trade market. Ottawa has assets in net (Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner) that they could move for help but the more likely route is free agency. While Ryan Suter is on everybody’s wish list, Jason Garrison or Bryan Allen are more likely and affordable scenarios.
The Senators should not see too many moves throughout the summer as management certainly enjoys the direction its young team is headed.
With the team’s core still firmly intact and the likes of prospects Mark Stone and Mike Zibanejad on the way, Ottawa should be content to let the pieces fall into place.
Breakout Player(s) in 2012: The obvious choice for a breakout player on the Senators’ roster next year is Zibanejad. The crafty Swede showed flashes of brilliance in last year’s preseason but ultimately fell short in a nine game audition to start the year. A return to the Swedish elite league was good for Zibanejad as he had an excellent World Junior Championships, scoring the gold-medal winning goal.
Kyle Turris brushed aside a contract dispute with Phoenix that saw him miss a good chunk of the early portion of last season. Turris was consistent and added a legitimate threat centering Ottawa’s second line. Playing in a city that lives and breathes hockey seems to have ignited Turris, who could see his game develop into more with increased familiarity.
Outlook: The remaining question in Ottawa is whether last year was simply the case of a team playing well over its head or if these guys are the real deal. Can Craig Anderson continue to be a reliable option in net? There’s really no reason to believe otherwise.
Paul Maclean’s management of his younger players seems to be one of his strong suits and with the young talent coming down the pipeline, there’s definitely reason for optimism in Ottawa next season and long term.