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2010-11 NHL Previews: Ottawa Senators

| by Sports Nickel

2009-10 RECORD:
44-32-6/94 pts
2nd in Northeast Division
5th in Eastern Conf.
—————-
GM: Bryan Murray
COACH: Cory Clouston
—————-
2010-11 PAYROLL:
$57,963,000 ($1.9M above cap)

Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Ottawa Senators were lightly regarded. Actually, lightly regarded probably sells them short. They were the team that nobody liked, and for good reason. Their goaltending was in shambles. Their offense was a joke after trading superstar Dany Heatley to San Jose. Their defense was led by Chris Phillips, who is about as explosive as a plastic grocery bag. And their coach was a newbie who had yet to even moonlight in the NHL, as a player or coach.  It was, in effect, a potential unmitigated disaster. A shot at Taylor Hall seemed likely before the season.

And then, the season started, and the prognosticators quickly realized that these Senators were not the untalented, uninspiring cellar dwellers that everybody expected. While in the past Ottawa was known as a team that relied on a glitzy effort from their top lines, during 09-10 the Senators were a squad typified by grit from the top to the bottom of the roster. This all stemmed from the renewed commitment to discipline from Clouston, which trickled down to the rest of the roster. The Sens had to work hard for every single win and, gosh darn it, they did. They ended up 5th in the conference, but were soundly defeated by Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Now, with another change-filled offseason in the rearview mirror, the challenge is to see if grit will do it again.

# POS Name Height Weight Age
11 F Daniel Alfredsson 5′ 11″ 200 37
58 F Cody Bass 6′ 1″ 204 23
16 F Bobby Butler 6′ 0″ 180 23
12 F Mike Fisher 6′ 1″ 208 30
71 F Nick Foligno 6′ 0″ 208 22
44 F Ryan Keller 5′ 10″ 196 26
22 F Chris Kelly 6′ 0″ 198 29
27 F Alex Kovalev 6′ 2″ 222 37
49 F Francis Lessard 6′ 2″ 235 31
37 F Corey Locke 5′ 9″ 175 26
9 F Milan Michalek 6′ 2″ 217 25
25 F Chris Neil 6′ 1″ 215 31
13 F Peter Regin 6′ 2″ 205 24
73 F Jarkko Ruutu 6′ 1″ 204 35
26 F Ryan Shannon 5′ 9″ 175 27
15 F Zack Smith 6′ 2″ 210 22
19 F Jason Spezza 6′ 3″ 216 27
18 F Jesse Winchester 6′ 1″ 206 27
14 D Chris Campoli 6′ 0″ 200 26
39 D Matt Carkner 6′ 4″ 238 29
55 D Sergei Gonchar 6′ 2″ 211 36
36 D David Hale 6′ 1″ 222 29
65 D Erik Karlsson 6′ 0″ 175 20
17 D Filip Kuba 6′ 4″ 229 33
5 D Brian Lee 6′ 3″ 208 23
4 D Chris Phillips 6′ 3″ 220 32
51 D Derek Smith 6′ 1″ 200 25
30 G Brian Elliott 6′ 3″ 201 25
33 G Pascal Leclaire 6′ 2″ 202 27

MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: Jason Spezza (first line centre/annual scapegoat) — He may not be the most valuable player on the Senators, but he is the most talented, in-his-prime star the Senators have. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say this season is pivotal to his long-term future as a potential NHL star. Spezza has always been an uber-talented player, yet he has a penchant for baffling mental errors. He is still just in the early stages of his prime at 27, and has always put up high points totals, but has never truly taken over a game by himself. He also has stated he’d be open to a trade. In short, he is Ottawa’s biggest enigma, acting out equal parts brightest light and whipping boy. If he shines this year, then Ottawa has an excellent chance of making the playoffs again. If he doesn’t, then his reputation—and career with the Senators—is likely down the toilet.

KEY ACQUISITION: Sergei Gonchar, D (acquired via free agency, late of Pittsburgh) — There’s no other way to say this: Gonchar is quite good. He was an integral part of the past few Penguins playoff teams, offering an old and wise yet still dynamic threat from the point. He may not have the slapshot he once had, but he can still produce in bunches, as evidenced by his 50 points in 62 games last season. As much as Penguins fans enjoyed slamming his perceived defensive shortcomings, Gonchar is still a top defender. Now, his task is to add some serious punch to a Senators blue line that lacked it severely last season. No defender scored more than 8 goals or 30 points last season, numbers Gonchar easily dwarfed. His role in sparking the offense is key. He also will be called on to mentor young point man Erik Karlsson, a talented offensive player who is still raw. His tutelage should help elevate Karlsson into a more consistent performer.

KEY DEPARTURE: Wouldn’t it have to be the guy Gonchar’s replacing, Anton Volchenkov? Ever since he made the jump to Ottawa in 2002, Volchenkov had been a stalwart on the Ottawa Senators’ blue line and a fan favourite. There was nothing the man wouldn’t do to help his team win. While his offensive numbers (4-10-14) were meager, his defensive impact was gigantic. Volchenkov would constantly hurl his body into whizzing pucks with no regard for personal safety, and has consistently been among the NHL leaders in blocked shots. He also delivered many clean but massive hits, and was always assigned to shut down the opponent’s top line. In essence, he was a classic stay at home defenseman at the top of his game, and his absence will seriously hurt Ottawa. Now, the 28 year old will defy death in a New Jersey Devils jersey.

KEY YOUNGSTER: It has to be Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is the Sens’ highly touted sophomore defender, picked 15th overall in 2008. Last year, he made the Sens roster right out of training camp in a mild surprise, and even more surprisingly played most of the season with the big club. Now, Karlsson is being tabbed as a rising star, and will be expected to handle a greater role. Karlsson has always been very smooth offensively, but he isn’t big or strong enough to play tough on the defensive end. He has been paired with Chris Phillips in the preseason, so maybe the vet will give him tips on how to blossom in his own end. In any event, it would be a huge boost for Ottawa if Karlsson became a two-way threat this season, likely giving them an above-average defensive corps.

OUTLOOK: I have no idea what to make of this team, and that’s my failing as a prognosticator. Ottawa seems to have average or below average talent at all three positions, they’ve lost some serious talent in Volchenkov and Matt Cullen, and they don’t have any reliable superstars. And yet, their coaching seems to always have them in a position to succeed. Cory Clouston has been nicknamed the “baby-faced drill sergeant” because of the way he works the Sens, and his system has clearly paid dividends; they made the playoffs last year with similar talent limitations. The Sens are always ready to play, and they can and will grind you to death.

Still, I don’t really feel comfortable projecting greatness for the Senators. They are, after all, mediocre, and they are, after all, losing some key pieces. You can never truly count them out, but I can’t really say that I think they’ll win often again. So, I think they’ll teeter on the line of the playoffs all season but eventually fall just out, in the 9-10 range. Which naturally means Ottawa will win the East. After all, they’re no strangers to succeeding when counted out by everyone.

FINAL PREDICTION:

  • 38 wins
  • 85 points
  • 3rd in Northeast/9th in Eastern Conference

2010-11 NHL Previews: Ottawa Senators is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust

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