Well Sens fans, we made it. We finally made it. That acrid smell that sweeps over ScotiaBank Place from the Carp Dump can only mean one thing: the NHL regular season is back. It’s about time too. One year after enduring the Dany Heatley fiasco, we had an opportunity to sit through four bland summer months that left us so news deprived, that we debated the David Rundblad trade and treated an event like the David Hale demotion like it was a big deal. Simply put, this offseason was safe,
Without further ado, here’s The 6th Sens’ 2010-11 Season Preview…
Forwards: Fisher, Regin, Smith, Spezza, Kelly, Michalek, Foligno, Ruutu, Alfredsson, Winchester, Neil Shannon Kovalev
Barring injury, this ensemble represents the strength of the Senators roster. It’s deep group with many interchangeable parts. The return of Kovalev (ACL), Michalek (ACL) and Alfredsson (sports hernia) from injuries should help this group and in conjunction with an improved puck moving blueline, Ottawa should have no problem improving upon their 220 goal tally from last season.
Remember when a year ago, Ray Emery predicted that his friend, Dany Heatley, would go on to score 60 goals for the San Jose Sharks? And then Heatley responded by posting the exact same total (39) that he scored the year before with the Sens. Well, let’s just say that I’m glad he hasn’t made any other bold predictions about Jason Spezza. One year removed from his dependency on Dany Heatley, I’m expecting big things from Ottawa’s first line pivot. (Ed. note: like 40 goals and 50 assists big.) It also helps that he realizes that it’s more productive to shoot the puck than to defer to Milan Michalek. Spezza’s wearing blinders and appears to be shutting out the press. If the result is a more driven, focused and mature player, no one is going to complain.
After scoring some unbelievable individual effort goals during the first few games of the preseason, Nick Foligno’s production dipped slightly as the preseason wrapped up. This kind of inconsistent production raises the question with Foligno: Is he a power forward with some soft hands or is he a third line 15-20 goal guy? Regardless, he earned the opportunity to play on one of the top two lines to start the year and some internal competition by Peter Regin should prevent Foligno from getting complacent.
Speaking of Regin, I had assumed that he would have had the inside track on a top six role given his play in last spring’s playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, it looked like he was slated to start the season on a fourth line with Zach Smith and Jesse Winchester. Maybe it’s just me, but Regin moreso than Foligno, is an infinitely better player when he’s playing with offensively creative players.
Looking at Ottawa’s bottom two lines, the philosophy Bryan Murray has used to build this team reminds me a lot of the way that most Canadian Olympic teams are structured. Two scoring lines and two grind lines. Ottawa’s third line trio of Ruuto, Neil and Kelly had a benchmark year last season and they’ll be counted on heavily to blend their physical style with some modest offensive production. Assuming that Neil and Ruutu don’t get into dumb penalty trouble, their irritating style should provide some grit that’s otherwise lost on Ottawa’s first two lines.
After their strong individual preseasons, the fourth line featuring Zach Smith, Jesse Winchester and whomever has shown that it’s competent enough to allow Cory Clouston to roll four lines. I already consider it a success because it no longer features Jonathan Cheechoo.
Defence: Phillips, Lee, Carkner, Gonchar, Karlsson, Campoli, Kuba
We’ve already been thrown our first swerve of the season when David Hale accompanied the team to Petawawa for some team bonding exercises and was subsequently put on waivers and demoted to Binghamton to clear some cap space. To start the season, management has decided to only go with 6 defencemen until Filip Kuba returns from injury.
Names like Lee, Gonchar, Karlsson and Campoli aren’t going to instill fear in the opposition. In fact, looking at the group as a whole, it’s hard to believe that just two seasons ago, Bryan Murray was so desperate to acquire a puck moving defenceman. That 2008-09 season saw Ottawa finished out of the playoffs and now it’s almost like Ottawa’s at the other end of spectrum. Has management over-emphasized a puck possession game?
It’ll be an interesting sub-plot to keep an eye on during the season. There’s no question that Gonchar and Karlsson will be entertaining to watch. However, I’m going to cringe every time an Ottawa defender has to go back in their own end to retrieve a puck. As it stands, the strategy to exploit the Ottawa blueline resembles a Kyle Wellwood stool sample after he’s been to a corn buffet: Soft dumps. Soft dumps. Soft dumps.
Unfortunately, this lack of a physical presence on the blueline will put a burden on Matt Carkner to stay on the ice and pick his battles. If he’s spending too much time in the penalty box, who’s going to clear the front of the net on the penalty kill?
Goaltending: Leclaire, Elliott
It’s a bit disconcerting that Pascal Leclaire’s game five performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins is the only good game that he’s played since January. Yet, given his salary, he’s going to get every opportunity to play himself out of the number one job for the second consecutive season. As an impending unrestricted free agent, this could very well be Pascal Leclaire’s last opportunity to prove that he’s a legitimate starting goalie in the NHL.
Although he’s privy to the deflating soft goal, Brian Elliott demonstrated that he is capable of handling a 30-40 game workload. In each of his professional seasons, he has demonstrated an ability to improve his numbers. Will this trend continue? Or is he simply a decent NHL backup?
More importantly, will anyone care about either of these two if Robin Lehner gets off to a torrid start to the AHL season?
Despite being brought in as unknown commodity to succeed Craig Hartsburg, Cory Clouston has brought much needed accountability and stability to the organization. Sure, maybe he’s still a little too loyal to some veterans for our liking — ie. In a perfect world, I’d like to see Regin on the second line, Foligno with Kelly and Neil and Ruutu on the fourth line — but it’s something I can live with since he brings a structure, organization and discipline that is unparallaled in Ottawa’s modern history.
On special teams, Sergei Gonchar was brought in to mentor Erik Karlsson and help jump start Alexei Kovalev’s production. Was last season’s ineffective power play a result of poor personnel or a bad philosophy used by assistant coach Greg Carvel or as fans like to call him, the luckiest man in sports. Somehow, despite a number of coaching changes and an ineffective power play, Carvel remains with the team. To put things in perspective, if he worked for British Petroleum, he’d still be their CEO. If the PP starts off slowly, maybe Clouston can let his wife draw up the power play. By mixing neutrals with bright pastels, she’s done a great job overhauling Clouston’s wardrobe. With any luck, the team’s success will parallel the improvement in Cory Clouston’s fashion sense.
The General Manager:
As Bryan Murray enters the last season of his contract, it will be interesting to see if this is his last season as General Manager. I’ll give credit where it’s due. This year’s version of the Ottawa Senators is the deepest that I’ve seen since Murray’s been here. For the first time in years, there are a number of prospects and players in the AHL who could be called upon and expected to contribute.
That being said, I don’t know if Bryan Murray has ever won a trade that has involved acquiring NHL level talent. Considering that the Hale move was made to save the Senators some cap space, I don’t think that there’s any question that the roster in December is going to be different than the roster that we see today. The uncertainty is whether Murray is going to win a trade outright without jeopardizing the future.
Motto: My Town. My Team.
My Town. My Team. It’s the kind of motto and team that the insufferable fans, who constitute a significant portion of the fan base, will snicker at. Bad goaltending. Old Russians. Injury prone players. A nepotistic front office. Booing Jason Spezza turnovers. A soft blueline. Deflating goals allowed. That Jared Cowen draft pick should have been Magnus Paajarvi. We’ve heard it all before and if the team starts off slow, we should be prepared to read or hear more of the same on the Interwebs, sports talk radio and in the comment section of Off the Posts.
If we at The 6th Sens had to pen a motto it’d be – The 2011/12 Season: It Can’t Come Soon Enough. With sexier prospects, bad contracts coming off of the books, the subsequent influx of cap space and the potential end of the Bryan Murray General Manager era happening this upcoming summer, the 2012 All-Star Game, there’s going to a ton of things to talk about heading into next season. I don’t even feel dirty about looking forward to next season.
Player with the Most on the Line:
Milan Michalek. If he doesn’t have a productive season, he not only make the Dany Heatley trade look worse than it already does. He needs to perform well to not only redeem Bryan Murray but to avoid losing that coveted first line LW spot alongside Alfredsson and Spezza.
Bounce Back Player:
Alexei Kovalev. An improvement in power play point totals should see the RW return to career norm production.
Things to Look Forward To:
- December 2nd: Dany Heatley’s return to ScotiaBank Place
- The Ottawa Sun media reinforcing the goaltending situation every week of the regular season.
- Robin Lehner’s debut
- Alexei Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson’s pursuit of 1,000 points
- Another season of hoping that Ottawa goes back to their original jersey
- A boatload of cap space on July 1st
- Rubbing Ottawa’s finish in the face of prognosticators everywhere
- Garry Galley’s hiring by CBC finally means that a CBC broadcaster now knows the names of more than three Senators players
Predicted Order of Finish in the East:
- New Jersey
- Tampa Bay
- New York Rangers
- New York Islanders
- David Hale is called up the day before team photo day and is sent down immediately following the shoot and is photoshopped out and replaced with cap space.
- Robin Lehner debuts the day after Cory Clouston throws in the towel and starts goaltending coach Rick Wamsley.
- Chris Neil gets in Matt Carkner’s face for fighting on home ice stating, “HEY! THATS MY THING!”
- Greg Carvel will continue to defy the odds and hold a job in professional hockey.
- Peter Regin becomes a 20 goal scorer. Mike Fisher becomes a former 20 goal scorer.
- Milan Michalek will record 2 goals for every assist.
- Jarkko Ruutu does something stupid and then says something funny and all is forgotten. Colin Campbell then tells everyone, “Well, this isn’t the National Wussy League now is it?”
- The keyboard keys g-o-a-l-t-e-n-d-i-n-g (space bar) d-e-b-a-c-l-e become worn out at the Ottawa Sun. Don Brennan is forced to sell Hawaiian shirt collection to replace the keyboards ($4 return).
- Another Alfie Love Fest for reaching 1,000 points occurs. Fans stroke out at the mere thought of an Alfredsson love in at the 2012 All Star Game.
- Scotia Bank Place somehow manages to inch its way another 5 minutes from downtown making it officially the West Carleton Arena. Carp Arena sues claiming territorial violation.
- Regin eventually supplants Foligno on one of the top two lines and in exchange, Foligno bumps Ruutu to the fourth line. Ruutu responds by driving a zamboni into Foligno’s ride.
- Pascal Leclaire eventually loses the number one job and Senators fans learn a valuable lesson. Even if you drive a Lamborghini, it still can’t get you out of town fast enough.
- We find out the real reason Dany never returned any of Don Brennan’s phone calls: It turns out Don ran out of minutes on his cell phone and none of his calls were ever connected.