As part of a continuing series, writer Benjamin Benya will be previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2010-2011 regular season.
Entering the Eastern Conference playoff race, we have the Ottawa Senators.
D David Rundblad, D Sergei Gonchar, D David Hale, C Corey Locke.
D Andy Sutton, D Anton Volchenkov, C Matt Cullen, RW Jonathan Cheechoo.
The Ottawa Senators are one of those teams that just makes you wonder. After an impressive and surprising season that ended with a brief trip to the playoffs last year, Ottawa turned the corner in the offseason in an effort to solidify some consistency within the system.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Senators rose from the depths of expansion to be a powerhouse, first place team in the East with incredible scoring talent and energy. But the window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup closed quickly and the Sens were shut down by the Ducks in their only Finals appearance. Now, the window may have re-opened for Ottawa to make waves.
Daniel Alfredsson continues his quest with the only team he’s ever known this year, and at age 37, his personal window is rapidly closing. Alfredsson will join the 1,000 point club this year and was once an elite forward who is showing he can still produce despite his age. His contract says he’ll play until he’s 40, meaning this shouldn’t be the end of the road even if Ottawa falters again.
Amidst another offseason of trade speculation, Jason Spezza will return in an Ottawa uniform for the time being. On the ice, Spezza has not responded well over the past two seasons to criticism of his play. He struggled to produce as well as he once had in 2008-09, and he sat out 22 games last season while the Sens pressed on without him. Losing a player of Spezza’s caliber would be a major hit to Ottawa, yet it might also spark new life with the secondary scorers.
Players like Nick Foligno, Milan Michalek, and Mike Fisher have stepped up to the plate and provided Ottawa with that much-needed scoring depth all teams look for. Both Michalek and Fisher are capable of 60-point seasons if they keep their heads screwed on straight, and Foligno is due to break the mold.
Then there’s Alex Kovalev, another 35-plus signing whose production slid a little more last year after an amazing season in 2007-08. To say, however, that this is the same hot and cold Kovalev we’ve seen for nearly two decades would be an understatement. As a potential free agent once again, Kovalev could be of better use if dealt to a team desperately seeking a presence on the wing.
Ottawa’s defense suffered a bit of a hit when Anton Volchenkov departed during the massive defensive shuffle in July, but the Sens were quick to rebound by signing Sergei Gonchar, yet another 35+ player. Gonchar’s skill remains better than most who get the kind of ice time he does, but recent nagging injuries make him something of a liability for the money it cost to sign him.
Keeping their heads on a swivel, the Sens also signed David Hale and picked up prospect David Rundblad in a trade with St. Louis. We’ll get to Rundblad in a bit.
Often the unsung heart of the Ottawa defense, Chris Phillips will be back in uniform this year, as will Chris Campoli and Brian Lee. Though both Lee and Campoli still have to prove they belong where they are, Phillips is consistently the go-to guy when it comes to playing actual defense in Ottawa. He’s never had a 10-goal season in his career, a testament to his stay-at-home style.
Ottawa’s goalie battle makes for one of the more interesting stories on the team this year. Goalie Brian Elliot played stellar down the stretch and looked like he earned the starting position for years to come, but the Senators have always had uncertainty about their goalies since the franchise's inception. Elliot’s lead competition, Columbus castaway Pascal Leclaire, is another reason to doubt.
Elliot has the age advantage and seems to having everything going for him in the battle, but Leclaire isn’t being paid $3 million more to warm the bench every night. If Leclaire can reestablish himself as something of a starter, then Elliot would take a temporary backseat. That said, it was Leclaire’s poor play that gave Elliot his big break in the first place.
Signed to an entry level deal by the Blues and traded days later, defenseman David Rundblad has spent most of his youth tuning up for the NHL in the Swedish Elite League. The Sens have some holes on defense that need to be filled and Rundblad, 19, could quietly infiltrate the system and become a star in no time.
Ottawa’s stark contrast between age and youth on either end of the roster could make for a succinct balance and another playoff berth. But the team is still miles from competing in the Finals once more.
Third in the Northeast, Eighth in the Eastern Conference.