The Senators were out of it early last season, a confused club under the equally confused Craig Hartsburg. Their lifeline was AHL farm-team coach Cory Clouston, who got his dysfunctional bunch believing they could win. After a futile grab for playoff position, the Sens finished .at .500, going .500 in their last ten games. A rift between the iron-fist-in-velvet-glove Clouston and diva Dany Heatley festered, leaving GM Bryan Murray dangling DH all summer. Are the Sens better now that The Heat is off, and a pair of ex-Sharks is swimming in Ottawa?
Maybe. Maybe not. In 2009-10, the Senators have Pascal Leclaire on pipe patrol, who says he’s ready to resume his production of goose-eggs. Forget the 9 shutouts he posted in 2007-08; if he’s at least consistent, Murray’s hair won’t turn any whiter than it already is. Alex Kovalev brings his usual shtick; how will he play with his new mates? The defense corps hasn’t been upgraded except for this year’s New Kid On The Block, ‘08 1st rounder Erik Karlsson, a smart blueliner who helped lead the ’09 World Junior Swedes.
Top forward –Jason Spezza’s numbers are declining. He frustrates coaches and fans with a game ranging from brilliant to clueless. Without Heatley to feed, JaySpez is evermore under the microscope, as is his $8-million salary. Spezza has hit 90 points before; if he clicks with Kovalev, Cheechoo, or Michalek, he might again. Or not.
Top defenseman –Anton Volchenkov. The Moscow native is a Spartan who bashes bodies and blocks shots like Robocop. But when he goes down with an injury, the Ottawa D plays like Sens mascot Spartacat. A UFA next year, the underpaid ‘Volchie’ could be trade bait if the Senators go sideways.
Unsung hero – F Nick Foligno. Like dad Mike, nothing fancy. Nicky comes out like Jake LaMotta and hammers away. A hefty lad at 6’0”, 210 lbs., hard work meant 17 goals last year. Can Foligno make it 20 this season?
Breakout player – Alexandre R. Picard. Injured for half of ’08-’09, this 24-year old local boy picked up from Tampa showed potential with intelligent, robust play. 6’2”, 220 lbs, his potential needs to become reality. Karlsson and the as yet disappointing Brian Lee are breathing down his neck.
Divisional finish: 4th. The Senators believe they have balanced scoring. Clouston has a full year to indoctrinate his charges; his creativity may compensate for a lack of elite players, and questionable depth. A steady Leclaire-Brian Elliott tandem can help them keep pace with the gaggle scrambling for the last two Eastern Conference berths. But if the Senators don’t come ready to do battle, hungrier teams will steal their lunch.