With the season opener around the corner here are my thoughts on this year’s Ottawa Senators. The team is coming off a surprising season where they finished 8th in the Conference. They scored 249 goals (t-4th) and gave up 240 (24th). Oddly enough, the Sens did not improve in the goals against category relative to the rest of the league (they were 24th last year as well, but gave up ten more goals), so clearly the primary change was in scoring (along with limited injuries)–the Sens tallied 57 more than last season.
Despite the success the Sens are still in the midst of a rebuild and the roster continued to change:
Jakob Silfverberg (SEL) -> Bobby Butler (NJ)
Guillaume Latendresse (Min) -> Nick Foligno (Clb)
N/A -> Zenon Konopka (Min)
N/A -> Jesse Winchester (Finland 2)
Hugh Jessiman (Cal) -> Rob Klinkhammer (Phx)
N/A -> Corey Locke (SM-Liiga/DEL)
N/A -> Mark Parrish (retired)
Marc Methot (Clb) -> Filip Kuba (TB)
Mike Lundin (Min) -> Matt Carkner (NYI)
Andre Benoit (KHL) -> Matt Gilroy (NYR)
Tyler Eckford (Phx) -> Tim Conboy (DEL)
Ben Bishop (AHL) -> Alex Auld (Austria)
Nathan Lawson (NYI) -> Mike McKenna (Stl)
The team lost 34 goals from the lineup, while adding 6, granting that neither of the three NHL additions played a full season last year. To my mind the Sens lost only two significant players (Foligno and Kuba) and with the season-long injury to Jared Cowen the loss of Kuba is going to be most acutely felt. The Sens will be very dependent on their goaltending, which despite some hype did not have remarkable numbers last season (some of that falls on the hapless Alex Auld).
The Sens won’t face the Western Conference in the lockout shortened season, narrowing down their competition. Unlike last year when most saw Ottawa as a lottery team, coming into this season journalists are largely slotting the Sens inside (or on) the bubble to make the playoffs. So how has the Eastern Conference improved (last year’s finish in brackets)?
Boston (2): say goodbye to Tim Thomas, hello Tuukka Rask; if Rask stays healthy this isn’t a much of a negative for the Bruins and there are no other significant changes to their roster.
Buffalo (9): no significant changes in the off-season for the Sabres, who are going to remain reliant on Ryan Miller.
Carolina (12): the biggest changes are the addition of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin and the departure of Brandon Sutter. The Canes are better, albeit how much remains to be seen.
Florida (3): unimpressive goaltending mixed in with a hodgepodge lineup; it will be interesting to see how Huberdeau does at the pro level. I think last season was largely a mirage.
Montreal (15): virtually no changes; the team is going to rely on Carey Price.
New Jersey (6): lost Parise and their goaltending is a combined 79 years old.
New York Islanders (14): remains a patchwork roster needing a larger injection of talent.
New York Rangers (1): landed the big fish in Rick Nash and they should be better.
Philadelphia (5): Luke Schenn is the main addition; it’s a scary lineup, although goaltending remains a question mark.
Pittsburgh (4): nice move to pick up Tomas Vokoun in case Marc-Andre Fleury goes into the tank again; the Jordan Staal/Brandon Sutter switch remains to play its way out. Most teams couldn’t get away with just two scoring lines, but the Pens (when healthy) have the talent to do it.
Tampa Bay (10): goaltending is iffy, blueline is slightly better; no major off-season additions.
Toronto (13): goaltending remains an open question; only major addition if James Van Riemsdyk who (when healthy) should help the offense, but doesn’t address the team need at center.
Washington (7): no significant changes, but should be a lock for the playoffs.
Winnipeg (11): Thin in net and on the blueline, and no top-end talent at forward.
I think the Panthers and Devils will fall out of the playoff picture, while Carolina and Buffalo should slip in. To my mind the conference hasn’t meaningfully changed in that only one team that missed the playoffs (Carolina) made a significant roster move. That makes the Sens’ prospects based largely on their own play. They need to stay healthy, get solid performances from support players, and continue scoring like they did last season. I think at least one of those three factors won’t happen (health primarily) which is going to make it even harder for the Sens to make the playoffs. Given that I think Ottawa will finish on the outside looking in (9th in the conference).
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)