Ottawa Senators' 2009-10 Season Preview

Fraser ElliottCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

TORONTO - APRIL 11:  Dany Heatley #15 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 11, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Leafs defeated the Senators on the strength of a 3 goal performance by Boyd Devereaux #22. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign. 

Let's get a move on with the Ottawa Senators, which play in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference.

What a mess.  Last season was a disaster in our nation’s capital.  They signed a new head coach at the start of the season and by February 2, Craig Hartsburg was out and Cory Coulston then placed behind the bench. 

By the trade deadline, General Manager Bryan Murray had decided his team was a seller and went out and traded for a new number one goaltender.  That’s right I said a seller.  Murray traded Antoine Vermette to the Blue Jackets for Columbus’ former number one goaltender, Pascal Leclaire.  Leclaire was deemed to be expendable with the sudden emergence of Steve Mason between the Blue Jackets pipes.

Murray and Coulston still are not sure what they have in their new goaltender because at the time of the trade, Leclaire had sustained a season-ending ankle injury and won’t be seen in a Senators uniform until the pre-season.

Then, there was Dany Heatley.  He came out after the season and stated that he wanted out of Ottawa because he was unhappy with new head coach and how he was being utilized after Coulston’s promotion in February.  He was mainly unhappy with his playing time and looking at his numbers, Heatley has a point.

Before February 2, Heatley played more than 20 minutes in a game, 36 out of 48 games or 75 percent of the time, under Hartsburg.  Under Coulston it happened nine times out of 34 games or 26.4 percent of the time.

Just for comparison, Daniel Alfredsson played more than 20 minutes in a game, 30 out of 47 games or 63.8 percent and under Coulston it happened 24 times out of 32 games or 75 percent.

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An attempt was made to trade Heatley to Edmonton.  A trade had been finalized but hinged on Heatley’s no-trade clause.  He decided not to waive the clause and as of today, is still an Ottawa Senator.

Let’s take a look at what moves G.M. Murray was able to make and see which players will be part of the Ottawa Senators in 2009-10.

Significant Additions

The unrestricted free agents that have been signed by the Senators are as follows: Drew Bannister (Germany), Mike Brodeur (N.Y. Rangers), Andy Chiado (Russia), Geoff Kinrade (Tampa Bay), Alexei Kovalev (Montreal), and Martin St. Pierre (Boston).

Significant Deletions

The unrestricted free agents that have moved on from Ottawa are: Alex Auld (Dallas), Brendan Bell (St. Louis), Danny Bois (Chicago), Drew Fata (Boston), and Greg Mauldin (N.Y. Islanders)

There are five former Senator Players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise.  They are: Mike Comrie, Jeff Glass, Brad Isbister, Jim McKenzie, and Geoff Waugh.

The Projected 2009–10 Ottawa Senators roster

The Senators currently have 19 players under one-way contracts; eleven forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders. The four players that are most likely to fill out the roster, that are on two-way contracts are as follows.  It would most like be two forwards and two defensemen.  These players are:

Nick Foligno is entering his third professional season in the Ottawa Senators organization.  So far during his NHL career, Foligno has played 126 games, scoring 23 goals and adding 18 assists.

Peter Regin is entering his second professional season in the Senators organization.  So far during his NHL career, Regin has played 11 games, scoring one goal and adding one assist.

Brian Lee is entering his third professional season in the Senators organization.  So far during his NHL career, Lee has played 59 games, scoring two goals and adding 12 assists.

Erik Karlsson is entering his first North American profession season.  Karlsson had been playing over in native Sweden before signing his first Entry Level Contract and making the move over to Ottawa.

If the Senators decide to go with 14 forwards, the most likely candidate is Ilya Zubov.  Zubov is entering his third professional season in the Senators organization.  So far during his NHL career, Zubov has played 11 games and has two assists. 

Based on their Salary Cap numbers it likely the Senators decide on Foligno, Zubov, Karlsson and Regin to fill the final four roster spots.  Of course, this is if Dany Heatley is still an Ottawa Senator at the beginning of the regular season.

With these 23 players, the Senators’ Salary Cap would sit at $57.0 million.  If you take the bonuses off of the calculation, it would only give the Senators approximately $290,000 in cap space. 

Now let’s take a look at some of the Senators’ top prospects that will be looking to impress G.M. Murray and Head Coach Coulston. 

Erik Karlsson

This 19-year old defenseman is a native of Landsbro, Sweden.  He was the Senators’ first round pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.  Karlsson has signed his first entry level contract and will be in training camp to attempt to make the Senators, out of training camp.

According to Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb;

“Erik is excellent on the power-play; he makes smart passes and has great vision. He plays the game with confidence, has a natural hockey sense and is a consistent offensive threat.

"He compensates for his lack of strength and size with his mobility, passing and vision and is at his best as an offensive d-man. Overall, he needs more weight and strength in order to be more effective in front of his own net.”

Karlsson entered the 2008 Entry Draft as the fourth ranked European Skater according to NHL Central Scouting.

Jared Cowen

This 18-year-old defenseman is a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  He was the Senators’ first round pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  Cowen has not signed his first entry level contract so it is likely he will return to the Spokane of the Western Hockey League.

According to Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire;
“Jared Cowen made his name last year as a Memorial Cup winning member of the Spokane Chiefs and the comparisons that were thrown around at that time were that of Zdeno Chara. Physically he looks big, strong and rangy.

"Offensively he has that kind of contribution and if he, despite the pressure that we are putting on him, blossoms into half the player that Chara he is going to be a solid NHL player for years to come.”

According to NHL Central Scouting’s Blair MacDonald
“He's going to be a top defenseman in the National Hockey League. It might take him a couple years to get used to the quicker speeds, but I think he's going to be a big, reliable guy back there for a couple years.

"We saw him turn his game up a couple notches last year in the Memorial Cup run and I think that was a pretty good indicator of what he's going to be like.”

Cowen entered the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has the ninth ranked North American Skater according to NHL Central Scouting.

Peter Regin

This 23-year-old native of Herning, Denmark was the Senators’ third round pick (87th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.  Regin is entering the final year of his entry level contract and it appears that Regin will be challenging for a fourth line role on this season’s Senators roster.  He becomes a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the season so Regin’s future will be determined by how he plays this year.

According to hockeysfuture.com;

“Regin’s best assets are his strong playmaking skills, soft hands, and overall offensive talent.  He sees the ice well and is calm when he passes the puck, which bodes well for a future as a playmaker. In front of the net, he knows where to put the puck and he has a terrific ability to find the open man.

"Regin has improved his skating and now possesses a more powerful stride and better balance.  Though he has a ‘pass first’ mentality, Regin does have a knack for scoring goals.  He has strong shooting abilities, specifically a high caliber wrist shot. 

"Regin is not the strongest player and definitely needs to bulk up just as his defensive game is a work in progress. His frame is promising and the above issues should become better as he matures and gains more strength. If Regin´s skill level continues to rise he has every chance of making a solid career.”

Patrick Wiercioch

This 19-year-old native of Maple Ridge, B.C. was the Senators’ second round pick (42nd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.  Wiercioch has yet to sign his first entry level contract because he will be attending the University of Denver and will be entering his sophomore season.

According to NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee;

“Patrick, a smart player with excellent hands, was used heavily on the power-play in Omaha. He needs to improve his skating and agility, but compensates with his ability to stick handle his way out of trouble. Improvement on his strength and development at University of Denver should positively compliment his puck moving ability.”

Jim O'Brien

This 20-year-old native of Maplewood, Minnesota was the Senators’ first round pick (29th) Overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.  O’Brien has signed his entry level contract and briefly played with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL, after his season ended with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. 

According to hockeysfuture.com;

“His 6'2 frame, strength and his ability to use to them to great advantage are O'Brien's strengths. While it is quite evident that he is still growing into his body, it's the immense potential of what he can do with it when he does that has many scouts taking serious notice.

"As good as O'Brien has shown that he can be in offensive situations, he's even better in defensive situations. He has the potential to become a very good defensive forward. His intelligence, willingness to block shots and the great care he takes in being responsible in his own end has helped make him an excellent penalty killer.

"He is also versatile in that he can play as a defenseman as well. O'Brien is an excellent skater combining powerful strides with deceptive speed. He isn't one to shy away from the physical side of the game and can deliver some very solid checks. With further physical development, O'Brien will become a more effective and intimidating presence on the ice.”

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia's comment on O'Brien:

"Jimmy, I think more than anything is extremely hard working, very dedicated and has high expectations for him. You project players and where they are today but more importantly, where they can get to. Jimmy has a pretty good top-end where he can get to and I think he's going to get there with his dedication, commitment and work ethic."

There is the possibility that O’Brien could switch to the right wing. Ottawa’s depth at that position is lacking, so it would give O’Brien a better chance to make the big club. Despite not lighting it up offensively, there’s nothing wrong with being a very solid, two-way checking center. Ultimately, he needs at least a year in the AHL, and it should give a better indication as to where he’ll fit in the NHL.

Recap of 2008-09

The Senators finished fourth in the Northeast Division and finished 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-35-11, good for 83 points. 

The Senators had three players that broke the 20-goal plateau and they had six players finished with double digit goals.  Last season, for the fourth straight season they were lead by Dany Heatley (39 goals and 72 points), Jason Spezza (73 points) and Daniel Alfredsson (50 assists and 74 points) but this season they may have some company with the addition of Alexei Kovalev.

The Senators offense was 23rd in the NHL with 213 goals for and defensively, the Senators were 15th in the NHL giving up 231 goals.

The Senators powerplay was tenth in the NHL last season, clicking at 19.5 percent but they were 15th in killing penalties (81.5 percent).

Outlook for 2009-10

A lot is still unknown about their new franchise goaltender, Pascal Leclaire.  The higher number of games that he has appeared in during his NHL career is 54 and that was during the 2007-08 season. 

If he can remain healthy and with a better defense in slightly better defense in front of him then he is used to, Leclaire may be the answer to the goaltending carousel that has been rotating around Ottawa since Patrick Lalime was the number one goaltender, before the lockout.

How Coulston handles his big four forwards will also go a long way to determining the fate of the Senators as well.  If Coulston goes with a combination of say, Heatley-Spezza-Foligno and another line of Alfredsson-Fisher-Kovalev, not only would that keep Heatley happy and also give the Senators, two well-balanced offensive lines.

I foresee a fourth place finish in the highly competitive Northeast Division and I think they will finish ninth in the Eastern Conference.  If the Senators can match their record under head Cory Coulston for the entire season and either the Rangers or Canadiens stumble, the Senators and the Hurricanes will be knocking on the door to take their place in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Sept 9, I will be reviewing Philadelphia Flyers as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.


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