BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Ottawa Senators

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BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Ottawa Senators

All right, so the season technically started—but I'll tell you what:

If you ignore the fact that the season technically started yesterday in Europe, I'll ignore the fact you "overlooked" your diet today, put your homework off until tomorrow morning, or are calling in sick to work/not going to class tomorrow because of a hangover—I'm looking at you, University of Western Ontario homecoming.

Therefore, we're in agreement.

 

Look, I'm as into the Battle of Ontario as anyone else, but I'm going to take it easy on Sens fans. We all know what happened after October wrapped up last season, and there's no need to get into it.

Their top three players—and three of the top offensive players in the league—are back, the soap opera with Ray Emery has hit the road (or the boat, if you will), and there have been some alterations to the Sens defensively to ensure that they aren't the highest scored-upon team entering the playoffs this season.

And the playoffs do seem like a solid bet—it's just where they'll be seeded that's the question.

 

Roster Additions: Jason Smith-D (F.A), Alex Auld-G (F.A.), Brendan Bell-D (F.A.), Jarkko Ruutu-F (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Wade Redden-D (F.A.), Ray Emery-G (F.A.), Martin Lapointe-F (F.A.), Mike Commodore-D (F.A.), Cory Stillman-F (F.A.), Luke Richardson-D (F.A.), Randy Robitaille-F (F.A.), Brian McGratton-F (Trade), Oleg Saprykin-F (F.A.)

How did 2007-08 go?
43-31-8, Seventh in conference, Second in the Northeast, lost in the first round of 2008 playoffs.

2008-09 Goal:
Regain supremacy of the Northeast

 

Let's break'er down...

The Sens and their fans were frustrated by last season, especially after the success they saw in 2006-07, when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

As I said before, there isn't much you can say after last season.

 

Gerber baby food: 10 for $4.00

As a Leafs fan, this is almost detrimental to my psyche to say:

Martin Gerber isn't actually a terrible goalie.  I'm not actually sure where the bum rap came from, but it's a bit undeserved.

NHL-wise, Gerber was a late bloomer. It wasn't because of his talent, but because he was putting up some fairly solid numbers in the Swiss and Swedish leagues, including a solid showing in the 2002 Olympics.

The following years saw Gerber spend time in Anaheim as a backup, where he sat behind J.S. Giguere.  He was actually pegged as a potential starter in the NHL a few times.

Following his move to Carolina, Gerber caught fire in his first season post-lockout. Although his goals-against average and save percentages were a little out of whack for a starting goalie (2.78 and .906) he was still able to post 38 wins in 60 games for the 'Canes, taking them to the playoffs.

But many people (including myself) wrote him off because of a poor Cup run in 2005-06, in which he was supplanted by eventual Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward.

His line in those playoffs? 1-1 with a 3.53 GAA and a .856 save percentage.

What we all overlooked was that Gerber fell ill that postseason (much like Jose Theodore this past postseason), and played despite his body not responding properly.

But last postseason, Gerber shut all of us up, vainly attempting to single-handedly keep the Ottawa Senators in their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming off a second career 30-win season last year, it should be much of the same for Gerber.  Plus, he no longer has to deal with the distraction of, or the questions surrounding, Ray Emery—something which will undoubtedly help the Swiss netminder.

Granted, he's not a top-line starter, but Gerber can do the job. While he's only used to a 50-60 game season, Alex Auld provides a serviceable backup who (probably) won't cause a ruckus behind Gerber.

Although Auld struggled early on with the Phoenix Coyotes (3-6, 3.54 GAA, .880 save percentage), his game really picked up after he was shipped to Boston, who he helped lift to the Eastern Conference playoffs (9-7, 2.32 GAA, .919 save percentage).

Auld isn't unfamiliar with starting.  He did just that with Vancouver in 2005, winning 33 games.  But so long as Gerber stays healthy, he just needs to be a serviceable backup for the Sens.

If Auld can't do that, or if the Sens run into injury problems, then Brian Elliot will be called upon to step up. The Wisconsin product only got into one NHL game last season (for the win), but he might be ready for NHL duty after a second full AHL season.

 

Alfie the Clown, Spezza Gonzalez, and Heaters the Lawnmower—Thanks Cartoon Network!

Ask anyone—the Ottawa Senators have one of the best top lines in the NHL. How they rebound after an early exit from last years' playoffs, however, will depend on their offensive depth.

Jason Spezza is neck-and-neck with Dany Heatley to be the main cog in the offense. Spezza did it all last season, scoring 33 power-play points, netting 34 goals, and cementing himself as a playmaker with 58 assists. The biggest knock against Spezza in the past has been his lack of defensive dependability, but the word on Spezza is that he's committed to a new defensive attitude, and should be a more well-rounded player.

As for Heatley, if it wasn't for a season that was stunted by shoulder injury, hew could have easily broken the 50-goal/100-point barriers for the third-straight season. Since the trade that saw Marian Hossa and Heatley switch places, 'Heaters' has really rebounded statistically and become one of the most-talked about superstars in the NHL.

Daniel Alfredsson is the third piece to this line, and the 35-year old will continue to lead the Sens by example on and off the ice. Alfie has been a consistent point-producer throughout his career, but since Spezza and Heatley have come into their own, he's really stepped it up a notch.

After four straight 80-point seasons (including a 103-point 2005-06), you couldn't expect anything less from the Sens' long-time captain—but the question is, for how much longer?

As for surprising rookies, the Sens are putting a lot of stock in Jesse Winchester. Like Brandon Bochenski a few years ago, Winchester was given a high-profile role on the top line, but he has since been dropped down the depth chart. Despite the change in role however, Winchester is a mature player who's produced consistently at the collegiate level for the past three seasons. Although he may not be a 70-point player off the top of his NHL career, look for him to have a solid rookie campaign.

Over the past few years, Mike Fisher has turned into a steady two-way forward who'll post 20 goals a season and perform admirably on the power play. Although Fisher is hitting his prime (He's 28 this season), his production may top out just below the 60-point level. 

However, Fisher will combine with Antoine Vermette to give the team some secondary scoring. Vermette has begun to mature, and could reach 30 goals this season.

Jarkko Ruutu was brought in over the offseason from the Pittsburgh Penguins to offer the team some sandpaper and grit. Aside from an energetic and physical presence though, Ruutu won't offer much scoring-wise, topping out at 20 points on a good year.

His partner in crime will be Chris Neil, the long-time physical presence for the Sens. Aside from the toughness, Neil also has a slight scoring touch—at least for an enforcer—netting 20 points in 68 games last season.

Chris Kelly was one of the more intriguing players for the Senators. Although he's not much more than an agitator and a practical hockey player, Kelly spent some time on the top line with the Sens, and posted his third-straight 30-point season. Although Kelly isn't really anything special, he does offer a sense of versatility to the Sens' lineup.

Nick Foligno is a young player (20) coming off a fairly underwhelming 45-game stint with the Sens last season (nine points). This will be a big year for Foligno, as he'll be pressed to learn from the top-guns on the Senators, and offer a little bit more of a threat than last season.

Christoph Schubert is another quality NHL grinder who'll contribute some energy, along with Cody Bass.  Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan will offer some experience and a 20-point presence, but not much else.

 

Breaking into Picards' Peanuts with a Phillips-head screw-driver...

One of the Senator's biggest moves this offseason was the dumping of Andrej Meszaros. Although the Sens would have benefited from being able to hold onto him, they learned that no one is worth risking your team's chemistry and morale.

The two players acquired in the deal will certainly look to shore up Ottawa's defensive play. Alexandre Picard will be a good, serviceable depth option on the back end, and Filip Kuba is a big defenseman who can put up some points, and help syphon off the passing and shooting lanes.

In that same sense are Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Despite his number-one overall pick status, Phillips is the farthest from the spotlight one can get. With his kind of game, Phillips is at his best when he's not being talked about—which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

As far as Volchenkov goes, though, his notoriety is slightly higher, only because you may see him alongside Dion Phaneuf in those weekly hit packages. Even so, he still gives the Sens' defense a great presence.

Jason Smith was added this offseason to not only provide leadership from the back end—which has been depleted the past few seasons—but also a defensive presence who isn't afraid to get in the shooting lanes and take the body. As willing as Smith is to dish out the pain, he's also tough-as-nails and will play through it in a heartbeat—the kind of dedication that's always valued.

The recently resigned Luke Richardson also provides the Sens with a solid defensive defenseman who could really shine in a limited role.

 

So what does it all mean?

The Sens addressed their two greatest needs this past offseason—they upgraded their defense, and they instilled a stronger sense of "team" throughout the roster.

In spite of that though, the Sens are still kind of a wild card.

I don't quite believe they'll get back to the levels of dominance they once showed, but they'll also be locked in a tough battle for second throughout the season, and may just barely miss out.

Third in Northeast Division

 

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.

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