A three-way race that is, for first in the Northeast Division.
It seems clear, based upon the "Big Media" season previews, that nobody knows what to expect from the Sens. Predictions have the Sens finishing anywhere from 12th to fifth in the Eastern Conference, with some considering the Sens playoff contenders and others as playoff pretenders.
Fair enough, I guess. Going into last season, the general consensus had the Sens just missing the postseason only to, in reality, finish fifth in the EC. But what concerned many of those pundits going into last season came to fruition. Too many goals against due to questionable goaltending and a lack of PMDs.
What surprised, however, was the depth in scoring. It also didn't hurt that, overall, the East was weak, and the Sens earned points against those few strong teams that ran roughshod over everyone else. Expecting 94 points to earn you fifth in the EC again this season is probably a bad plan.
So earning 94 points again may not cut it, but, apart from two players, this is the same roster that went into last season. As the old ditty goes: "One of these things..."
Enter Sergei Gonchar, the most prolific NHL power-play specialist of the last decade. A small change in number, and potentially a huge change in numbers—PP numbers, Sergei represents the "secret weapon" in Murray's plan to get into a three-way (race).
No doubt, the best way to get into the postseason is to win your division, and as luck would have it, the NE is ripe for the pickin'. This isn't to say it's a walk in the park, but like the Senators, every other team in the NE has issues, and at least on paper, the Sens match up well.
Boston, like the Sens, have goaltending issues. They're paying big bucks to one guy, while likely to ride another. I don't care what is said to the media; this creates friction and has the makings of a full fledged controversy. Add to this the loss of their No. 1 centre, for who knows how long, and all bets are off.
Buffalo, the other stick in the three-way, has done little to change since last season and will once again hope to ride the coattails of goaltender Ryan Miller. Not a bad plan. But what if Miller stumbles, or worse, is injured? It's now down to riding the coattails of Lalime. Enough said.
Murray believes his squad is a contender in the NE and hopes to finish first or, at worst, be battling for first. OK. A good plan, but good enough?
Like any three-way, fantasy and reality may not be one in the same.