Season Preview: The Season of the Sens

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators - Game Four

The Season Preview will be a running column on questions and thoughts for the upcoming season. Individual teams will be highlighted in each post.  CLICK HERE for the full list of Season Previews.

There’s been some hype around the Ottawa Senators this offseason.  Nicholas J. Cotsonika ranked them 7th on his list of contenders heading into this season, justifying their likely asscention by reminding us of all the players the Senators were missing several key players for significant portions of the season.   In the annual Puck Daddy staff predictions, their staff agreed that the senators will be a good team, with all but one of them picking the Senators to finish in the top 3 spots in the division.  So, are they correct?  Is this team that finished 4th in the Northeast really going to improve enough to finish ahead of either the Red Wings, Bruins, or Canadiens for the last playoff spot?

It’s hard to say for certain.  It’s hard to be this confident with the team.  There are so many unknowns with how their season could go.

For starters, can they actually remain healthy?   No team ever remains healthy all season, but the key players need to be there all season.  If history is any indication, the Senators could be short several key players yet again.   Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, and Milan Michalek have all had recent injury troubles, will they avoid them in the future?    While Karlsson’s injury was a bit flukey, Michalek and Spezza have all had a history of missing chunks of seasons.

The other big question mark is how this team is going to adjust to losing a large part of its identity with the departure of the face of Spezza_Jason_Lthe franchise, the man who was their captain since 1999.  When Daniel Alfredsson left the Senators for the Red Wings this summer, it shook the league and was one of the biggest surprise signings in years.  It’s time to see what his leadership actually meant to the team.  Did the Senators overachieve despite injuries because of locker room morality and camaraderie?  What will this departure do to that?  And is the influence and leadership of longtime Sens Spezza, Chris Neil, and Chris Phillips enough to fill the void?  It’s an interesting intangible to consider, but the Senators have had a lot of loyalty in recent years, so team identity shouldn’t falter too much.

Despite the loss of Alfredsson, there is reason to believe that the Senators are actually better with the offseason acquisition of high scoring winter Bobby Ryan.  He had four straight 30 goal seasons before the lockout shortened year, which wasn’t a great one, but shouldn’t be a sign of how he’ll do this year.  They also got Clarke McArthur, who is a bit of a reclamation project that has topped 20 goals in the past, and could turn into a great signing.   They also didn’t lose much else this offseason.  It is a playoffs team that has remained  relatively in tact, has added a few good players, and looks healthy.

The only downside to trading for Bobby Ryan is the loss of Jakob Silfverberg.  While this likely wont amount to a lot in the short term, he is a strong young player and could be a top 6 producer in a few seasons.  However, it’s not a big price to pay for Ryan, who is still young and likely entering the prime of his career.

So, why don’t I feel confident in their success?  Well, I still think the Senators are lower on the totem pole than the Red Wings and Bruins, and I don’t think the Senators have a significant edge over either Montreal or Toronto.  In my mind that leaves them as a bubble team that will need everything to go right if they’re going to finish i the top three in the division and guarantee a playoff spot.

And I think that’s where they’ll be at the end of the year.  Possibly sneaking in as a low seed.  Possibly finding themselves on the outside looking in if any of the big guns miss significant time.

A return of 2011-12 Jason Spezza could be a big boost to this team’s chances.

Optimism rating (out of 5):  3.0

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